Tony Gillan: Sunderland still suffer from mental weakness, needless fear, bad passing and over reliance on one player - something has to change
After one single game this season, Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Oxford United, a number of supporters leapt to the supposition that “nothing’s changed since last season.”
While this conclusion may have been arrived at with absurdly prematurity, eight games later it is difficult to gainsay any of it.
Things came to a head at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday with a performance that, even amid the vertiginously awful shows of the last three years, was achingly bad.
But let’s at least try to be even-handed about this. People who decline to shout obscenities on the internet aren’t necessarily the irrational ones.
Nor are they away with the fairies, tickled pink with a point at Bolton, or blindly accepting of how things are shaping up. They’re just more civilised.
Greater levels of outrage do not equate to caring more about the club. Not that post-Bolton outrage was entirely unreasonable either.
Outsiders looking in could be forgiven for examining the facts and wondering where all the anger is coming from
Sunderland are fifth, five points from top with 37 games remaining. They have scored in all but two of their last 63 games, lost one game from 11 in all competitions this season and, at the time of writing, are still in the League Cup.
However, equally salient facts are that they have kept only one clean sheet in their last 19 league games and none this season (even Bolton have kept two), have won just five of their last 16 and continually concede amateurish goals. Play-off form at best.
And no one gives a monkey’s about the League Cup.
This is before we even consider the “entertainment” on offer. Even though I’m personally satisfied with victories of any type, good results are more likely to come from good performances, which Sunderland aren’t giving.
Happily, playing badly and winning is more likely the further down the football pyramid you slide; something in Sunderland’s favour these days.
Even so, for a side purportedly striving for automatic promotion, they just aren’t good enough. In a league where decent, rather than outstanding football is required to finish in the top two, they really are pushing their luck.
Some expected too much at the start of last season. Unless they somehow failed to notice that 2017-18 was the worst season in SAFC’s history (spare us the statistics: it was).
There has also been continued misguided talk about Sunderland’s “resources”. Large debts remain.
Nor, as is regularly claimed, did Sunderland have the best players in the division last season. As a minimum Luton and Barnsley had better (as proved by the league table) and it’s delusional to imagine otherwise.
Nor were free transfers from Burton, Bury and the Turkish second division likely to transform the squad.
But that was last season.
At Bolton on Saturday the worst element to it was that it was no surprise. It was yet another draw; this one against a side that hasn’t won in six months and regularly concedes five.
But the biggest problem of all is that nothing, repeat, nothing has changed in a year.
All the same issues remain: the mental weakness, the lack of positivity, the needless fear, the bad passing, the over reliance on one player.
This must stop. Something has to change.
Using your skill and judgement, what do you think that change should be?