Sunderland a soft touch as Chris Coleman cannot hide his anger at failing squad

The first half at Cardiff on Saturday represented a microcosm of Chris Coleman's time in charge so far.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 9:00 am
Cardiff's fourth goal hits the back of the Sunderland net

It was a patched-up side, square pegs in round holes everywhere you looked.

Sunderland struggled for quality on the ball and could hardly be said to be carving out chances, but they did have something of a counter-attacking threat and, at the back, looked organised enough.

It’s a template that has delivered some good results since the Welshman arrived on Wearside.

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Then came the second half, a tidal wave of ineptitude that left alarm bells ringing and Coleman himself at his lowest ebb since taking on a demanding job.

The utter despair of the Sunderland support, both in the ground and watching on with horror in the North East, reflected a club that knows it is in serious danger of another catastrophic relegation.

The despair was heightened by the fact that the support in the transfer market Coleman needs this month will almost certainly not be offered by owner Ellis Short.

With that comes a feeling of helplessness and no one can blame the Sunderland support for their ire.

The Black Cats were atrocious in the second half, complacent and gifting the game to opponents who had been short of confidence themselves.

The first goal, from Callum Paterson, was a litany of individual errors, players left unmarked at a corner and a goalkeeping flailing at thin air.

The second saw Kenneth Zohore bounce away from challenges before teeing up Joe Ralls for a fine finish. That move came from a Sunderland free-kick on the edge of Cardiff’s box, the Black Cats either unable or unwilling to track their runners on the counter. Neither bodes well.

The third goal was another free-kick, Cardiff fortunate with the deflection from the wall but Sunderland again caught on their heels as Paterson hammered a finish home.

The fourth was another comedy of errors, leaving Anthony Pilkington, ignored by Cardiff boss Neil Warnock for most of the season, to score a tap-in at the back post. Sunderland’s defence really had been in a charitable mood.

Clearly, they were not helped by the loss of Didier Ndong to a red card shortly before the second goal, but Sunderland’s capacity for implosion is a great concern.

Coleman put it down to a ‘soft’ mentality and he is not the first.

Sunderland conceded to Barnsley in a similar fashion less than two weeks ago and Coleman was left utterly seething by this latest set piece debacle just moments into the second half.

Every answer in the post-match press conference wound its way back to that one moment, anger still bubbling well over an hour after the event.

Journalists who followed Coleman for six years in the Wales job, from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, were left shocked by his combination of frustration and deflation.

That says much and it will be interesting to see who keeps their place for the crucial visit of Hull City this weekend.

Though the defence improvements since he arrived are undoubted, consistency remains elusive and it is proving a tough nut to crack.

That is one of the two major problems he currently has. The other is an absolute absence of presence going forward.

Sunderland are lacking ball players and forwards who can compete physically with defences like Cardiff, packed with strength and power.

Through no fault of their own, George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja were completely marked out of the contest.

All three can thrive, but they need more experienced bodies around them to create space and time.

Is it any wonder Sunderland fans are so desperate for the arrival fo Jonathan Walters?

They can see the frightening truth: Sunderland are a soft touch, easy to play against and they rolled over again here.

Get their choice of attacking reinforcements wrong and they are staring down the barrel of League One.