If Sunderland continue with slapstick at one end and toothlessness at the other, the shortcomings of Newcastle & Co are irrelevant

Saido Berahino scores the winner for West Brom
Saido Berahino scores the winner for West Brom
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It was a thoroughly dispiriting weekend. In fact we couldn’t have been dispiriteder.

Sunderland lost again to poor opposition, possibly the poorest so far. Defeat to a side containing James McClean is a new low. West Bromwich Albion, however, are now eight points ahead.

Costel Pantilimon appears to be fouled

Costel Pantilimon appears to be fouled

Meanwhile Newcastle won for the first time since the earth cooled. The timing is not propitious and the first quarter of the season has been worse than anyone predicted.

Worse still is the fact that of the nine fixtures played so far only one of them, Manchester United away, was a fans’ write-off beforehand. If a decent bagful of points is not brought home by the end of November then Sunderland could effectively be kaput before the new year – because the December games look horrendous.

The nights are getting dark and I’ve got a bad back (might as well give you all the bad news).

Regular readers will know that I do at least attempt to spread optimism, although I’m not sure I can even convince myself at the moment. One can but try. I suggest that you grab any sort of positivity while stocks last.

If Sunderland are to continue with slapstick at one end of the pitch and toothlessness at the other, then the shortcomings of other sides are of little relevance.  

Nevertheless, leading into Sunday’s light-hearted kickabout, Newcastle have not won an away game in almost a year; and even their own fans are not convinced by a win over fellow strugglers Norwich. This is before considering their recent derby record.

Further afield, the three promoted teams are visibly deteriorating, Aston Villa are not improving, while Sunderland have the luxury of being unable to descend any further down the league.

Many people are forecasting relegation for Sunderland, which hardly seems unreasonable. Yet it is a foolish soul who presents prediction as incontrovertible fact. The last three seasons have taught us that. There may yet be three worse teams.

I suspect that this soupçon of Micawberish blind hope has failed to set you a-sprinting to the off-licence for a dozen cans of champers; so if I have failed to abate the anguish there is one final piece of heartening, nay inspiring news.

The pub’s open.

Further flimsy hope is provided by the dubious axiom that: “These things even themselves out.”

“These things” don’t appear especially keen to even themselves out just now. Sunderland had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed at Bournemouth (and against Manchester City in the League Cup should you wish to push a point).

Then there was the failure of Neil Swarbrick to show a second yellow to West Ham’s Mark Noble, presumably because of Noble’s failure to actually decapitate Fabio Borini.

Then there was West Brom’s goal on Saturday.

Goalkeepers are an overprotected lot – apart from Costel Pantilimon. The question is: was it a foul or should the keeper have done better?

The answer is: “Both.” Pantilimon should have flattened all before him in the course of holding the ball, but Saido Berahino clearly backed into him; wrong decision by the referee.

A number of “experts” seemed to think there is law stating that tall players cannot be fouled by short ones (incidentally Berahino is 5ft 11in and fairly well constructed, he’s not a toddler).

For good measure, Berahino then illegally kicked the ball out of Pantilimon’s hands, before tapping home for an undeserved win.

If Sunderland claw back some misfortune by winning with a dubious penalty or several on Sunday, then victory would surely be sullied for the home fans.

Yet I dare say they would cope.