Sunderland have to find a way to strengthen in January as they continue to find new ways to lose
With the photographers training their cameras on the home dugout, Sunderland manager Chris Coleman arrived to acknowledge the crowd with applause and a beaming smile.
Fast forward two hours and the pre-match optimism had been replaced with an all-too-familiar feeling of frustration, anger and disbelief as Sunderland found a new way to lose.
At the weekend, Callum McManaman played the pantomime villain, timely ahead of the festive period.
Sunderland had started well against Jaap Stam’s Reading, the players carrying out Coleman’s instructions and sticking to the gameplan, organised, a good shape and well-drilled.
It wasn’t hurting the Royals, themselves happy to be patient in their build-up from the back, but Sunderland were well in the game.
And it almost reaped rewards, Adam Matthews on the overlap with a deep cross to the back post for McManaman to tap the ball home.
He did. But with his hand. Under pressure perhaps, but there was no excuse.
From the high of thinking they’d taken the lead to the low of being down to 10 men moments before the break. Sunderland on the backfoot again.
Reading made them pay, 3-0 up after 71 minutes and in complete control.
There was a bizarre moment midway through the second half when the Reading defence was allowed to pass the ball around freely under no pressure whatsoever.
Sunderland stuck to their formation but allowed Reading to dictate.
It was like a World Cup game when both teams just needed a point to qualify- except Sunderland are deep in relegation trouble and it was the last thing the fans wanted to see, boos from the terraces finally sparking Sunderland into some sort of life.
Sunderland, a man down, dropped deeper and deeper and, with their defensive inadequacies exposed again, couldn’t get enough support to Lewis Grabban.
McManaman’s suspension for the Wolves game opens up a place.
Joel Asoro has taken his chance in each of the three substitute appearances under Coleman, don’t bet against him being handed a start at Wolves.
Coleman has a patched-up team, injuries crippling his options, but the experienced players are not performing as they can, especially at home.
Aiden McGeady, the most naturally gifted player, continues to disappoint – at fault for the opening goal when he lost possession.
Lee Cattermole, again booked for a rash challenge, and Darron Gibson did well at Burton Albion, but they were well off the pace against Reading.
Losing possession too easily and often, the duo proved vulnerable to counter-attacks and quick breaks.
The problem is, aside from throwing a number of youngsters into the side, Coleman currently has few other options.
The hope is that the former Wales chief can keep cash-strapped Sunderland within touching distance of the teams above them before the January transfer window opens.
With finances severely limited, Coleman will have to rely on his contacts to bring in low-cost signings, free agents or loans, or sell players to free up finance.
By hook or by crook, Sunderland have to add some quality to this squad.