Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Sunderland’s downtime

Tottenham's Nacer Chadli in action with Sunderland's Ki Sung Yueng and Fabio Borini.
Tottenham's Nacer Chadli in action with Sunderland's Ki Sung Yueng and Fabio Borini.
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“THAT’S why you’re going down,” chanted the Tottenham fans with 15 minutes to go.

Adam Johnson had managed to suck ex-Sunderland loanee Danny Rose into a cheaply-conceded foul next to the right-hand corner flag.

It presented Sunderland with a rare opportunity to press for an equaliser.

Yet Johnson chronically over-hit the resulting free-kick over the entire crowded penalty area and the ball went harmlessly out for a throw-in.

The Spurs fans immediately broke out into laughter and song.

Gus Poyet was motionless, standing stony-faced inside his technical area. Deep down, he knew those on the terraces at his former club were right on the money.

It’s those needless, brainless, elementary mistakes which have plagued Sunderland time and time again this season. In part, it’s down to a lack of quality, but a lack of concentration is also to blame.

In fairness, mistakes at all levels of this club are why Sunderland find themselves hurtling towards the Championship with such feeble resistance.

Root and branch reform is needed before any immediate promotion push can be contemplated, assuming that the Black Cats will indeed suffer the drop.

But whatever the deficiencies in the squad and the clear huge gulfs in confidence levels, Sunderland have still been the architects of their own downfall.

It was the same with Tottenham’s first two goals on a harrowing evening at White Hart Lane last night.

On both occasions, the excellent Christian Eriksen was allowed to whip in low balls which skidded on the greasy surface.

On both occasions, Sunderland’s central defenders were caught ball-watching.

All three of the centre-halves were static for the opener before Emanuele Adebayor bundled the ball home, albeit with a hint of handball.

Wes Brown was then caught out again for the second as Harry Kane – clearly a youngster struggling for form and self-belief – was able to get the wrong side of the former England international.

It had almost happened on a third occasion, 10 minutes before half-time, before a combination of Phil Bardsley and Vito Mannone just managed to scramble the ball away.

Teams who defend as Sunderland did for the majority of Tottenham’s five goals, go down. Full stop.

There is no licence to accommodate such errors in the Premier League.

Should Poyet have kept John O’Shea in the starting line-up?

It was a big call to drop the Sunderland skipper, albeit he reacted in the right attitude by constantly shouting encouragement from the bench.

He was also one of only a half-a-dozen players who headed over to applaud the superb away support after the final whistle.

But O’Shea has been at fault himself recently, most notably Andy Carroll’s opener for West Ham last week.

The unforced errors are a contagious plague. When a player like Brown is beginning to suffer them, it really does show the depth of the problems at this club.

O’Shea’s replacement, Carlos Cuellar, was decent considering his lack of game-time, yet Santiago Vergini again endured a harrowing final 20 minutes after he had been a little more assured.

But what will have frustrated Poyet most is that, even after the first of those slapdash errors, Sunderland were still very much in the game.

Lee Cattermole’s first goal in Sunderland colours – in his 112th appearance for the club – had given the visitors a platform and a reward for a bright opening 20 minutes where they kept their heads and kept their shape.

Yes, it was dreadful defending for Tottenham’s equaliser and Eriksen was becoming increasingly influential before the interval as he orchestrated matters in his tucked-in role on the left-hand side of midfield.

Spurs were also beginning to expose Sunderland’s full-backs as they used overlapping runners down the flanks.

But Sunderland still went in level. They would have accepted that as a chance to “have a go” in the second half, particularly with the inconsistency which has plagued Spurs under Tim Sherwood.

Sherwood’s anxiety on the touchline and astonishing interaction with supporters from the dug-out, highlighted the vulnerability in Tottenham’s ranks.

It all changed with that second goal.

Heads sank and those tiny fragments of self-belief evaporated. Sunderland collapsed in spectacular style, even by their standards.

Poyet had to go for it and gamble for an equaliser, but that roll of the dice was exposed in the most painful fashion.

Taking off Cattermole, as part of the double substitution which saw Craig Gardner and Nacho Scocco introduced, was a huge mistake – one which Poyet admitted himself afterwards.

Setting aside the Teessider’s opportunistic goal, which had been coming after near-misses against Liverpool and West Ham, Cattermole was Sunderland’s driving force.

He was the most offensive-minded of the midfield trio, while also offering some bite in the middle of the park.

When Cattermole departed, Sunderland’s resistance crumbled.

The visitors were utterly and completely lost. Spurs netted three goals at a canter, while Sunderland’s players slumped with resignation.

It was a startling admission afterwards from Poyet that Sunderland are a soft touch when they have to chase a game and go like-for-like with the opposition by adopting a 4-4-2.

It was another of those thinly-veiled admissions from the Uruguayan that the players he inherited from Paolo Di Canio and Roberto De Fanti’s catastrophic recruitment drive simply aren’t up to scratch.

Poyet’s subsequent comments that it will take a “miracle” for Sunderland to stay up, demonstrated that he realises the game is up.

The fans know it, the manager knows it and, on the evidence of their performance in the second half last night, the players know it too.

Mathemathically, it’s far from impossible and if Sunderland could suddenly produce one unexpected win from somewhere, it would completely alter the complexion of the relegation battle, particularly with Norwich so clearly a club on the edge.

But after those brief highlights this season – the double derby delight, the cup run and shock victories against Everton and Manchester City – Sunderland look like a side ready to accept their place in the Championship.

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