The disconnect between Sunderland's team and its city has never felt wider: Only a fundamental reboot will do

For a while, Chris Coleman's stock post-match response was to point out how many points there are still to play for this season.
Sunderland fans endure Saturday's defeat to Preston. Picture by Frank ReidSunderland fans endure Saturday's defeat to Preston. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland fans endure Saturday's defeat to Preston. Picture by Frank Reid

No more.

One, because it is no longer particularly reassuring. 18 points from the available 24 might not even be enough to save Sunderland.

Secondly, because he has no intention trying to pull the wool over the eyes of a support who, as he said last week, ‘know their stuff’.

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Instead, he spoke with a measured and brutal honesty than one hopes had ears burning in the dressing room next door.

Coleman put himself, for a moment, in the shoes of opposition managers and players. Just wait, he said, for Sunderland to switch off, to lose their focus, from a set-piece or otherwise, and the game will be there for the taking.

It is true and a damning indictment of the current squad.

This was another game in which Sunderland were the architects of their own downfall. The first Preston goal came from a flat free-kick not dealt with properly, the second was an absolute embarrassment, Callum Robinson completely unmarked as he headed home a cross.

Even assistant boss Kit Symons, normally relentlessly positive on the touchline, stood up aghast at this point, arms spread wide in disbelief.

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The red card for Jake Clarke-Salter, the sixth in 22 games under Coleman, came from two yellows. In both situations, the on-loan defender was under little pressure until he played himself into trouble.

Yet again, once they went behind, Sunderland showed little to no prospect of bouncing back.

Sunderland fans left and why on earth would they stay? It is a broken record and Coleman knows it.

This is a city of fighters where grit and resilience are two qualities prized above all others.

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Little wonder, then, that this team is so unloved. It is not just that they are statistically heading to be one of the worst in the club’s history, but that they seem to be so accepting of that fate.

There is a disconnect between team and city that has never felt wider.

The latest off-field headlines will do little to heal that divide.

It stems from owner Ellis Short, of course, whose absence and lack of investment set the tone for a season of ineptitude. There is a potent mix at play – a lack of direction off the pitch and a chronic lack of identity on it.

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Frankly, it is an affront to supporters from a city where the club still is woven so closely into the fabric of the mood.

Coleman, of course, knows that his work on the training ground, and with the players, is proving not to be enough and it was with awkwardness that he addressed questions over his future in the build-up to Saturday’s game.

“I’ve not pulled up any trees yet,” he said.

“It doesn’t say a lot about us,” is a regular refrain when picking apart the shockingly soft goals conceded.

Results under the new manager have unquestionably been a bitter disappointment, but, at the same time, they are not particularly surprising given the mess this squad is in, not just mentally, but physically, too.

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Saturday was another afternoon that underlined both the chronic lack of athleticism and power in the Black Cats’ side, as well as the complete lack of experience across the front line.

There is an acceptance of defeat that will take a drastic overhaul to change. The problems are not likely to be solved by a switch in system. We are well past that point now.

Only a fundamental reboot will do.

Coleman’s straight-talking at least tells us that he can see the problems and offers some hope that he can build a team that better reflects the passion and grit of the support it represents.

The crucial question that will be asked over and over again in the coming months is whether he will ge given the scope to have a proper go at it.