Sunderland are improving on the pitch but it will only count if Chris Coleman is backed off it

Sunderland boss Chris Coleman applauds the travelling fans after Saturday's 2-2 draw at Reading. Picture by Frank ReidSunderland boss Chris Coleman applauds the travelling fans after Saturday's 2-2 draw at Reading. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland boss Chris Coleman applauds the travelling fans after Saturday's 2-2 draw at Reading. Picture by Frank Reid
Of all things, a Chris Gunter cross.

It was the right-back who had orchestrated what was perhaps the finest moment in Welsh football history, one that ensured his and Chris Coleman’s place in folklore.

They were leading Belgium 2-1 when Gunter flew down the right wing.

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Coleman, on the touchline, muttered ‘don’t cross that ball, Christopher’ (plus expletive), but Gunter gambled and Sam Vokes headed home at the near post.

A semi-final place in Euro 2016 was secured for Wales.

At the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, Gunter was at it again, this time to underline the failings in Coleman’s current charges.

Sunderland seemed to be heading for victory, but, just as they have done so often this season, they switched off and did not defend their box.

Aiden McGeady and Jake Clarke-Salter were too slow to spot the switch of play to their flank.

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Clarke-Salter, a centre-back forced into the left-back role due to Bryan Oviedo’s injury, was too far infield and could not stop the cross.

Yann Kermorgant had used his experience to peel off to the back post, one-on-one with Sunderland’s smallest defender, Donald Love. It was a good header, but one he has executed over and over again through the years.

Could goalkeeper Lee Camp have done better? Maybe, maybe not. But he certainly should have done so for the first goal, fumbling a weak shot from Mo Barrow and then bringing down Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, too slow to react to the loose ball.

And that was that.

Sunderland’s engaging and enjoyable attacking play cancelled out, a game which they mostly dominated yielding just one point.

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There was a hug for Gunter at full-time, a player who Sunderland boss Coleman respects immensely.

Coleman may be proud to be Sunderland manager and still bullish about his chances of turning of it around, but he must merely miss the togetherness and resilience he shared with that group of Wales players.

There have been signs of encouragement on that front.

Sunderland responded well to Camp’s early shocker and should have been level, at the very least, before half-time.

They missed a glut of chances and were unfortunate not to be given a penalty when Callum McManaman was tripped in the box. It felt like one of those days in one of those seasons.

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So to come out and pick up where they left off was impressive, Paddy McNair scoring a screamer from distance and Lee Cattermole heading home a superb Aiden McGeady free-kick.

They were more than worthy of their 2-1 lead, but, for the third game in a row, they could not hold onto it.

For about a month now, Sunderland have looked a good enough team from box-to-box.

They’re more powerful in midfield, commit bodies quicker and are much more purposeful in moving the ball. In both boxes, however, they lack a decisiveness that will now surely leave them playing League One football next season.

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In so many ways, it underlines what Coleman has been saying for a number of weeks.

It will not take a king’s ransom to turn Sunderland around, certainly not in the third tier.

The outline of a team is there, a core of young players who will only improve the more they play. Despite their league position, they were again clapped off the field by the travelling fans.

Nevertheless, a level of investment to genuinely improve the team in key positions, with players at their peak, is needed.

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A willingness to move on established players will also be needed, to signal the start of a new era.

With that, things would not seem so bleak, but to get there a new or a refreshed and reinvigorated owner is required.

Coleman, like all supporters, knows that we are a long way away from that position, and it is far from certain we will ever get there.

So quietly encouraging performances like this feel hollow at best.

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