Phil Smith analysis: Fans let down again as basics desert dreadful Sunderland side

When this game is shown on Match of the Day, the camera will inevitably pan to the reams of fans streaming out of the ground when Peter Crouch nodded in Stoke's third goal.

Saturday, 14th January 2017, 5:03 pm
Updated Saturday, 14th January 2017, 5:11 pm
Many Sunderland fans left their seats after the third goal

There will, inevitably, be remarks and jokes.

Truly, though, it is incredible that they still come in such droves. 42,722 let down again as the basics completely deserted this threadbare Sunderland squad.

Incredible, that even at the nadir, they managed to create a din. 3-0 down, seemingly no hope on the horizon. Yet all it took was a consolation strike from Jermain Defoe and some much needed harrying from Seb Larsson to lift them, to create an atmosphere worthy of the Premier League.

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The hope did not last too long, for if there is no doubt about the Premier League quality of the fans, this squad, hamstrung by injury and international call-ups, are struggling to convince that they have enough to pull off another great escape.

The ball retention was woeful. The first goal came from Jason Denayer failing to execute a ten-yard pass, but it could have been any one of his team-mates who opened the floodgates. Denayer's was simply one of many basic errors on the ball. If it were not simple passes going astray, it was aimless long balls lumped into the channels or into the hands of Lee Grant in the Stoke goal.

The second half was better, working the goalkeeper on a couple of occasions and moving the ball with a bit more confidence. By then, though, the game was up. In the crucial opening stages of the game, there was simply not enough bravery or composure on the ball. The crowd felt the fear and it made for a restless stadium.

Yet it was off the ball where Sunderland were truly found wanting.

Stoke had a gameplan with two main outlets, and the Black Cats didn't cope with either.

Time and time again, long diagonal crosses were not dealt with. Peter Crouch is a unique player who is difficult for any defence to handle, but it was too easy for him here. Many have noted Sunderland's weakness to high balls from the opposition; here it was ruthlessly exposed.

When Stoke did get the ball down, the Sunderland XI never got close. Too many times they were bounced off in the challenge, too many times they didn't track their runners. The scoreline could have been worse.

Stoke's second was a beautiful move, but at this level, allowing the opponent to play two simple one-twos isn't good enough.

Sunderland are still in with a chance, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough not taking the chance to put real daylight between themselves and the bottom three. The level of improvement will have to vast if Moyes' men are to take advantage.