Phil Smith's analysis: Abject surrender to Birmingham means the stakes are high for Sunderland on deadline day
Deadline Day looms and the stakes couldn't be higher.
Sunderland boss Chris Coleman has put his faith in youth, but it is a gamble that he shouldn’t have to take game in, game out. To ask him to do so would, make absolutely no mistake, roll the dice on Sunderland’s future.
To keep the Black Cats up, he needs more.
For all the good the home support saw against Hull City, last night’s 3-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Birmingham was yet another scarcely credible step backwards.
Another abject surrender after conceding a soft first goal.
Inevitably, more followed.
Before kick-off, Coleman had spoken of that win over the Tigers as a much better representation of the team he wanted to see on a regular basis.
There was verve and energy, added to real tenacity when they had to defend deep in numbers.
There was a warning, though. We have been here before, a step forward followed by a crushing dose of reality.
As time ticks on and the closing of the window draws ever closer, this was arguably the most disappointing and alarming defeat since the arrival of the former Wales boss.
It is partly due to an over-reliance on young players, who will go through natural peaks and troughs in form.
It is also due to an imbalanced squad that is struggling to cope with the division. Both need correcting today.
Sunderland need a striker.
If they don’t get one, then they need to offer the young pair who will be tasked with saving them radically better service than this – an absolutely pitiful display, summed up by the succession of aimless long balls fires at Josh Maja and Joel Asoro throughout the game.
Neither could make it stick, starved of the balls into the channels on which they thrive.
There was no bite in midfield, with Sunderland overrun entirely and unable to build a platform from which to get into the game.
They need a goalkeeper, and Coleman is desperate to secure one.
Another poor display from Robbin Ruiter was far from Coleman’s only problem at St Andrew’s, but, yet again, inconsistency between the goalposts cost them.
The first goal went straight through the Dutchman at a saveable height, David Davis running clear after a simple long ball into the channel was misjudged by the defence.
For the second, he could do nothing about a free header well converted by Jeremie Boga.
At the third, both he and the defence allowed the goal too softly, Maghoma breaking free from their challenges in the box and squaring across goal for a simple Sam Gallagher finish.
Without John O’Shea, the defence in front of Ruiter was all over the place, pulled apart at will.
A midfielder is needed, too.
Lee Cattermole is short of match fitness, Ethan Robson of experience. It showed here, and persistent problems for Jonny Williams and Paddy McNair mean Sunderland cannot count on their returns.
A deal for Liverpool youngster Ovie Ejaria is close and the Black Cats need to get it over the line.
If there was one positive, even if only slight, it was that Kazenga LuaLua made an encouraging debut from the bench. Playing in a central role, he generally showed good strength and skill on the ball, going close with one effort from distance.
The Black Cats did put together one excellent move, with Bryan Oviedo scoring a consolation at the back post.
They went on to draw a number of saves in the latter stages from David Stockdale, but that rally will have only angered Coleman more, coming with the cause already long lost.
He has drawn some good results from this squad of players and it was only 10 days ago that they looked to be making significant progress.
There have been too many days like this, however, to write them off as coincidence.
It is a Deadline Day of significant importance.