Phil Smith's verdict: Making sense of the Adams Park battle as Sunderland are left counting the cost

Earlier this season,Plymouth Argyle boss Derek Adams surveyed what he had witnessed at Adams Park and in trademark fashion, took aim.

Sunday, 10th March 2019, 12:01 pm
Updated Sunday, 10th March 2019, 12:03 pm
Duncan Watmore celebrates his dramatic Adams Park equaliser

“If that’s the beauty of football then somebody will have to sit down and tell me that’s the way football should be played," he said.

“This is the worst I’ve seen, terrible, really terrible.

Duncan Watmore celebrates his dramatic Adams Park equaliser

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“I don’t see how you can come here as a football supporter.

“We haven’t seen the ball in play a lot this afternoon, we’ve seen a lot of stoppages throughout the afternoon.”

So Sunderland would have known what to expect.

Jack Ross said as much.

Wycombe Wanderers are punching well above their weight, thanks largely to the tactical nous of Gareth Ainsworth and his ability to grind out results with a small squad on a small budget.

It goes without saying that they do everything to maximise their chances.

Ross was frustrated, certainly, but there would be no criticism of Wycombe and rightly so.

He has genuine respect for Ainsworth and one of his constant mantras is that every manager has their own unique set of challenges.

Ainsworth excels in managing his.

The frustration for Ross was two-fold.

One, with Lee Swabey, who had no control of the game and did nowhere near enough to ensure it moved on at a good pace.

As Ross said, Sunderland would have to take their responsibility for the stoppage-time melee but such an explosion of anger felt inevitable given the way the game was managed.

Secondly, with his own side.

He has spoken recently of how he has enjoyed watching them play. There has been an attacking threat but also an element of control.

In the first half particularly, those improvements were nowhere to be seen.

Sunderland have the ball away sloppily, lost second balls and struggled defensively to cope with a direct opponent.

There were frustrating and concerning parallels with the draws at Oxford and Scunthorpe that raised so much concern.

Conditions were challenging and the opponent robust, but Ross said he had no problem with that, it was up to his side to deal with it and particularly in the early stages, they did not do so.

And yet.

Sunderland scored again, as they have done in every league game this season.

They were a man down at the time.

Even when their performance levels were off, they dug in and found a way to at least offer a threat.

Though poor at the other end, both Tom Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne came close from set pieces.

They have still only lost twice all season.

Automatic promotion remains very much in their own hands and the ecstasy of that late Watmore goal was yet another moment for the scrapbook from this frantic, draining but exhilarating campaign.

It was a poor display but by no means a desperate point when the good results that preceded it are taken into context.

The main concern for Sunderland will not be the result but the wounds they will have to nurse ahead of a seismic clash at Barnsley.

After settling on a shape and structure that was delivering results and performances, Ross has lost his captain, as well as potentially his most consistent centre back in Tom Flanagan and the lively Duncan Watmore.

On Watmore, there was genuine displeasure from Ross.

It was a crude, awful, cynical challenge from Marcus Bean that left the 24-year-old in a heap.

The popular forward is just beginning to find his feet and it would be a cruel blow if his progress was checked by this bruising contest.

Sunderland showed their resilience to come out of this battle with their long unbeaten run intact.

Ahead of the trip to Oakwell, the hope will be that the long-term consequences are not more damaging that than the two points dropped.