Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: One-paced and gifting goals, Black Cats are in serious relegation trouble
If you were a Sunderland manager in-waiting watching this, what would you make of it?
It could not be said that this side was comprehensively outplayed by Middlesbrough, who were pedestrian and sloppy for large parts of a forgettable contest.
The Black Cats should have taken the lead when Lewis Grabban was presented with a glorious opportunity just minutes in, and there were times in the first half when they moved the ball reasonably well.
Aiden McGeady went close from distance, Randolph was busy.
It was another game when Sunderland lost direction in an attacking sense, their opponents looking the more likely to score in the latter stages even as they protected a lead.
The spine of the team looked increasingly one-paced, the aimless balls into the channels and over the top not taking long to return after a bright start.
It was another cheap goal conceded, Marcus Tavernier somehow granted the room to turn home at the front post as Sunderland’s defence were caught on their heels.
Another eminently preventable goal, another day when Sunderland’s opponents left with three points having never really got out of first gear.
Clearly, this is a side in need of a new voice and new ideas.
Stockdale and McKinlay surprised with their selection, Didier Ndong and Paddy McNair, the two most dynamic midfield options, shunted out of position.
Ndong was bright and busy but rarely in the areas that can hurt opponents, while the spine of the side looked leggy, particularly off the ball when the team is far too easy to play through. Just as had been the case in the game the last time these two sides met six months ago, an axis of Gibson and Cattermole failed to protect the back four or build a platform to create sustained pressure .
Sixteen games is more than enough time to make judgements about a side, and there can be no doubt that the defensive woes hanging over Sunderland make them firm candidates for successive relegations.
This was far from the worst display of the season, and yet the Black Cats rarely looked like taking something from the game.
The new manager has a worrying amount of work to do.