Necessity clashing with reality as Sunderland start difficult January journey
Sunderland is a club where on a daily basis, necessity is clashing against reality.
Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Middlesbrough was another limp display that underlined the desperate need for investment in a unbalanced, one-paced squad.
The core of what manager Chris Coleman is trying to achieve could be seen again.
There were patches of promising build-up, some patience on the ball. Some good overloads created on the flanks, some good switches of play from central midfield.
The end product and indeed the presence in the final third was badly lacking, however, and a professional Boro side were rarely troubled.
At the other end, Sunderland conceded soft goals.
The first came within 10 minutes of kick-off, the frighteningly sharp Adama Traore tearing through the centre of the pitch and teeing up Rudy Gestede for a simple finish.
The second was even softer – a corner dropped by Jason Steele from which a number of Sunderland players failed to clear the ball. Martin Braithwaite ended the contest with a firm finish.
Coleman was right to praise his players, particularly the very young cohort, for not folding in the second half, but the problems are glaring.
Investment is needed, but the word behind the scenes is clear: it will not be there.
The best Coleman can hope for is a generous slice of any sales that can be pushed through before the end of the month. There are no certainties there.
Sunderland have little wriggle room given the drop in revenue and their still significant wage bill, and owner Ellis Short, despite the clear need, is unlikely to provide any funds above and beyond what is needed to keep the club functioning.
The side is struggling from a lack of composure on the ball, little creativity, little presence and little pace in the final third.
It leaves Coleman relying on two things.
One is that a clutch of his injured players, and any analysis of this defeat truly has to begin with the brutal lack of options for the Sunderland boss, can return and play a part.
The manager is quite clearly not planning for the return of Didier Ndong, Jack Rodwell or Lamine Kone in any significant capacity.
The likes of Paddy McNair, Aiden McGeady, Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch and Adam Matthews could improve things, however, as could Jonny Williams and Darron Gibson when they return further down the line.
Supplemented to that will be a raft of young loanees, Jake Clarke-Salter the first.
He will add some poise and pace to the backline.
A holding midfielder is needed, as are at least two striking options.
Whether these youngsters have what it takes to lift Sunderland out of their malaise remains to be seen, but one positive is that Coleman is clearly a manager who relishes working with young players.
He will need to find goals, whoever he brings in.
The defensive improvements since he arrived have been vast on the most part, but the fact that Aiden McGeady is now the club’s top scorer – of the current squad – on five goals reveals much.
Natural goalscorers are hard to find and expensive to acquire, hence the scramble for Lewis Grabban’s signature after four months of regular action and goals.
The Black Cats can’t compete in that market, the clearest example of necessity clashing against reality.
This was another difficult day to follow Sunderland.
They are fortunate to have an excellent manager at the helm. He will have to unearth some gems to show it.