Chris Young’s FA Cup verdict: Still in cup, but Sunderland looking so fragile going into Burnley crunch

Billy Jones plays a pass down the right for Sunderland against Fulham today
Billy Jones plays a pass down the right for Sunderland against Fulham today
Have your say

IF THERE was a crumb of comfort from an afternoon which did zilch to boost Sunderland’s confidence, it was that they remain in the FA Cup.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton and Spurs cannot testify to that. At least Sunderland avoided the curse of the upset which befell some of their big-hitting Premier League peers.

But Sunderland will go into a crunch game in the relegation battle next Saturday against Burnley still looking desperately fragile.

The post-derby malaise is lingering uncomfortably.

At the Stadium of Light, in particular, Sunderland are a cause for concern.

For home debutant Jermain Defoe, this was an insight into where Sunderland are and why they find themselves just a point above the relegation zone.

Defoe drew several saves out of Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli with the half-chances which fell his way and on another day, may well have broken his Sunderland duck.

But it took more than an hour for Sunderland to deliver any hint of service to their front two.

Against a Fulham side, who were without their captain Scott Parker and limited £11million Ross McCormack to a 30-minute cameo from the bench, it made for a desperate sight, not least as a spectacle.

Gus Poyet’s decision to persist with a 3-5-2 was no surprise, yet Sunderland’s midfield was full of graft, but no craft.

Rather than replacing the injured Adam Johnson with an Emanuele Giaccherini or Ricky Alvarez - who would have been like-for-like alternatives in the hole behind the front two - Sunderland were more defensive minded in the middle of the park than at Spurs seven days earlier.

Liam Bridcutt, Seb Larsson and Jack Rodwell were all largely doing the same job.

In the first half, in particular, too, Sunderland were far too ponderous in possession; taking two or three touches on the ball rather than the odd first-time pass.

With Defoe and Steven Fletcher forced to drop deep and hunt for the ball, it was only really wing-backs Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt who offered any sort of creativity.

Regardless of any change of shape, it was too reminiscent of too many Stadium of Light performances over the last couple of years.

The service to the strikers has been as much of a problem as the execution of chances.

The idiotic dismissal of Rodwell did little to change the pattern. Sunderland simply had two men providing the legs in the middle of the park, rather than three.

It would have been much, much worse for Sunderland had Hugo Rodallega’s late long-ranger gone the other side of the woodwork.

But being in the hat was the only positive to take.