As Roy Keane, Peter Reid and Kevin Ball watch on, do SAFC need a drastic gamble to revive club or can Grayson tap into memories?

Bristol City defend in depth as Billy Jones tries to get on the end of a Sunderland corner. Picture by Frank Reid
Bristol City defend in depth as Billy Jones tries to get on the end of a Sunderland corner. Picture by Frank Reid
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Former Black Cats manager Roy Keane was in the stands as Sunderland floundered to another costly Championship defeat on Saturday.

In a dismal second half, beyond all logic, the best passer in the side was taken off and long balls were lumped towards 6ft 6in defender Aden Flint.

Also present was ex-captain Kevin Ball, and somewhere nearby was Peter Reid, visiting the region he made his own during seven largely dizzying years.

The memories of what they achieved in this great arena loomed large over a side that has lost direction; a club that seems to have lost so much of its connection to a proud support.

All three will have been keen observers of this latest defeat. You would hope that Ellis Short was too, that the owner fully realises the danger this side is in.

At the moment, Sunderland are relegation fodder, unable to win games when they are ahead or playing well, unable to adapt and grind out results in games that they struggle in.

They are a soft touch at set pieces, and wasteful in possession.

It is set against a backdrop of an owner who is funding the club’s shortfalls but offering little else.

It is a recipe for numbing apathy.

It is for that reason that the names of Keane, Ball and Reid appeal and have been mentioned in various quarters, a sense that a drastic gamble is needed to put life back into the club and build a bridge to a support that is fast losing faith.

Regardless of the merit or otherwise of such an approach, the nostalgia reflects a loss of pride and a sense of helplessness, a sense that only a total reboot will make a difference and halt the pervading sense of drift and decline.

For now, it is a moot debate, with manager Simon Grayson still in post and with the opportunity to save his tenure against basement side Bolton Wanderers tomorrow.

It is surely last chance saloon.

Grayson impressed most with his upbeat approach to a summer in which Sunderland lost most of their best players and had little funds with which to replace them.

The Sunderland boss brought in genuine quality and a bleak picture would look far worse if not for the contributions of Lewis Grabban and Aiden McGeady, two cut-price, inspired pieces of business.

Generally, however, there has been a failure to build any kind of convincing cohesion or identity, laid bare in games such as Saturday’s home loss to Bristol City, when the team looks rudderless.

Sunderland remain too easy to play against and if chief executive Martin Bain is serious about competing in the top half of the table, he will be forced to be decisive soon.

The question then would be how they would go about attracting a replacement, given that the situation now is even worse than it was in the summer, when top targets showed little interest in taking the job.

There are question marks too, over the ability of Bain and those in the Sunderland hierarchy to make the right decision when so much recently has gone so wrong.

In the long run, it is hard to escape the feeling that only a change of ownership, a new broom and fresh ideas will give Sunderland the chance to build a prosperous future.

With little sign of that happening at the moment, the feeling of powerlessness many fans feel is understandable.

In the short term, Grayson has a game against a club whose journey represents what many fear await Sunderland.

The onus is on him and, of course, his players, to show bravery on the ball and make good on the promise of an exciting team, direct but purposeful – like those of Ball, Keane and Reid, the memory of which seems more vivid than ever in these testing times.