Cat’s Eye View: Is this group of Sunderland players actually capable of beating the drop?

Sunderland's Paddy McNair gets clear of his marker.
Sunderland's Paddy McNair gets clear of his marker.
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Whether you agreed with what he had to say or not, Sunderland owner Ellis Short’s rare interview ahead of the Middlesbrough game was generally well received.

After so long without saying anything publicly, just the fact Short chose to speak out on a variety of issues was a positive step. It needs to happen more.

Spiky, yes, but he spoke passionately about the severe problems facing Sunderland who, by his own admission, are in a crisis. A deepening one at that.

Short’s ambition is to see Sunderland challenging as a top seven Premier League team. The current picture couldn’t be any bleaker.

Victories for Burton and Bolton, coupled with the 1-0 defeat to Boro, has left Sunderland rock bottom of the Championship.

Surely there would be a reaction from the Sunderland camp to Simon Grayson’s dismissal and the widespread and heavy criticism of the players? No, not really.

Sunderland were far from awful against Middlesbrough.

At times they looked well organised, compact and looked to pass the ball around on the grass rather than lumping it forward aimlessly. A novel approach.

But there was little in the Sunderland performance to suggest this was a group of players looking to prove people wrong.

There was no spark, nobody grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, nothing to suggest an upturn is imminent.

Perhaps they aren’t capable. Perhaps the relegation hangover is proving impossible to shift. Perhaps they just aren’t good enough.

Middlesbrough’s spending topped £50million yet there wasn’t much between the two sides, Sunderland having spent just £1.25million.

There is one big difference, though. Despite an inconsistent start under Monk, this Boro team do at least know how to win. Three in a week sees them fifth. Sunderland, with one league win, have forgotten how to.

Sunderland huffed and puffed but they did very little damage to Boro, goalkeeper Darren Randolph largely redundant second half.

Billy Jones endured a torrid time, at fault for the winner having let Marcus Tavernier get across him to fire home at the near post.

John O’Shea also lost his man in the build-up, Stewart Downing’s exquisite ball releasing Martin Braithwaite to provide the assist.

Jones was later booked before injuring himself in a collision with Darron Gibson, the defender coming off worse. Right-back remains a huge problem.

Gibson continues to frustrate. The ex-Everton man too slow, too pedestrian, slows down every Sunderland move. The Black Cats must find a solution to their midfield woes.

Lee Cattermole was walking a disciplinary tightrope after a rash challenge, while Aiden McGeady had an off day.

Lewis Grabban missed a sitter after only a few minutes, Randolph with an excellent stop. Sunderland were soon behind.

Same old sorry story.

Sunderland are in desperate need of a new manager to come in, ruffle some feathers, galvanise the fans and spark a big reaction from a group of players currently League One-bound.

Never mind the Premier League. Never mind the top seven. Most Sunderland fans would currently settle for Championship mid-table mediocrity.

Yet, even that modest ambition is some way off with Sunderland already six points off Hull City in 20th.

The importance of getting the next manager right cannot be underestimated. Sunderland’s future relies on it.