Roy Kelly: Sunderland's mental failings return and it was painful to watch
Will the real Sunderland please show themselves?
And could they please do it on Wednesday night against Chelsea?
It won’t be the first time that opening question has been put out there and it won’t be the last either.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming – the Black Cats are not shy to follow up some real promise with a fall.
And that is exactly what they did against out-of-sorts Swansea City, who romped home with three second-half goals from Fernando Llorente (2) and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The bottom-of-the-table side appeared ripe for the proverbial taking, having conceded nine goals on the previous two Saturdays.
But this is Sunderland, not a team who will do it the easy way when there is a more painful route.
And this was painful as they helped the Swans on the way to three vital points which sent them back to the foot of the division. The side was barely recognisable from the one which took Leicester City to task just seven days earlier.
Don’t be fooled by the tightness of the scoreline against the champions or the Match of the Day highlights, the 2-1 win was a thorough going over, the final result did not do them justice.
There was an intensity, a vibrancy in the performance, the new-found spirit was backed up by good, attacking, positive football, while the defence, by and large, shackled Jamie Vardy & Co.
But on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium, some of the old failings returned, seemingly mental ones.
It reminded this reporter a little of the display at Stoke – another away match the Black Cats had been tipped to win.
There they gifted a side low on confidence a two-goal start and thereafter failed a) to recover and b) to put together any real football.
To be fair to David Moyes and his side, this was no-where near as bad as that insipid display at the Britannia or Bet365 Stadium or whatever it’s known as these days.
The Cats appeared to have the measure of the Welsh side, for the first 50 minutes at any rate.
Swansea, with a handful of changes from the previous weekend, offered little to worry the away goal, and what they did the excellent Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone dealt with. Sunderland’s full-backs got forward with purpose, Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones lively, the latter causing trouble during the minute’s ovation for Bradley Lowery which rang all the way around the ground.
Sunderland, operating a 4-4-2, had two great openings just before the mid-point of the half.
The first came on 20 minutes when Jordan Pickford, not for the first time, sent a great ball forward to Victor Anichebe. He found Jermain Defoe who produced some trickery before fizzing a left-footer just over the bar.
Jones, again, got into the box within two minutes to put in a teasing ball, only to see Defoe and Seb Larsson tackle each other when a goal looked a near cert.
Swansea had a header or two in the first half, but defenders Alfie Mawson and Jordi Armat were nowhere near.
The goal threat came from Sunderland and Defoe had another sight of the net four minutes into the second half.
Pickford was the key figure, his incisive throw releasing van Aanholt who played in Defoe, the leading scorer again showing neat footwork before shooting wide.
Had that gone in – and you half expected it to – you suspect the Swans may have gone under. But there was a gift coming their way within 60 seconds, as Jason Denayer blocked Wayne Routledge’s cross with his arm to concede a soft penalty.
Moyes was unhappy with referee Craig Pawson and his linesman, but it looked a clear penalty. Sigurdsson’s spot-kick was driven emphatically up the middle to make it 1-0.
It was at this point the away side should have stuck a wedge in the door until the home fervour died down.
They poured straight forward but Seb Larsson could not get on the end of a good van Aanholt cross.
But they were susceptible at the other end and it needed a brilliant diving Pickford save to divert a Modou Barrow shot out for a corner.
And Sunderland switched off from Sigurdsson’s grass-cutter delivery which Llorente casually passed into the net to double the lead.
Djilobodji launched an attack to try to pull one back but, no one was there for van Aanholt’s cross. The Swans were the more likely scorers, Llorente fluffing an opening and Pickford making a wonder save from Amat.
Despite a double change – Adnan Januzaj and Jan Kirchhoff were thrown on – the away side had lost all attacking impetus, they wore the appearance of a side who knew they were beaten, despite the best efforts of Anichebe.
The striker teed up Defoe who dragged a shot wide and won an attacking free-kick which, not for the first time in this campaign, failed to clear the wall.Swansea, predictably added the third 10 minutes from time, sub Jeff Montero getting the better of Jones on the wing and putting over the perfect ball for Llorente who could not miss with his header.
Moyes had readied Fabio Borini to come on as the last throw of the dice, but as Pickford fished the ball out of the net, the Italian was sent to sit back on the bench.
Djilobodji and Denayer had late efforts for Sunderland but the side ended up losing tamely. Given the way they had performed over the last four matchdays, that is what made the day so disappointing.
Will the real Sunderland please stand up.