Long and short-term errors overlapping to leave Sunderland limping towards the Premier League drop

Fabio Borini fires in a late shot for Sunderland at Watford, only for keeper Heurelho Gomes to make the save. Picture by Frank Reid
Fabio Borini fires in a late shot for Sunderland at Watford, only for keeper Heurelho Gomes to make the save. Picture by Frank Reid
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Jermain Defoe didn’t have a shot.

That says much about another fatal missed opportunity for Sunderland.

The chances had not fallen to him against Burnley in the 0-0 draw last time out, though many of his team-mates should have registered. After that, he had gone on England duty, scored, felt the adoration of the footballing public and returned with a spring in his step.

Yet the platform at Vicarage Road on Saturday was not there, Sunderland unable to create anything for their prized asset, by some distance the finest goal scorer in the bottom half of the league.

The only clear-cut chance fell to Adnan Januzaj, who, rather aptly, could only meekly shoot straight at Heurelho Gomes.

At the other end to Defoe, Jordan Pickford was inspirational, only serving to underline how Sunderland have so comprehensively not been able to take advantage of two of the most impressive players in their recent Premier League stint.

Watford were not outstanding, but they did not have to be.

It was not one-way traffic, but, quite clearly, the Hornets were quicker, more powerful, more composed on the ball. They were superior physically, as David Moyes feared, but technically too.

The contrast between Sunderland’s front three, brushed off the ball, lacking confidence in front of goal and unable to hold the ball, and Watford’s effervescent forward line was stark.

There are two strands to this.

One is that Watford have been able to pull clear of Sunderland because the Black Cats are hamstrung by mistakes of the past.

The second is that Sunderland have compounded this, two clear opportunities in their past two games not taken, selecting a pedestrian side unable to seize control of games.

Many of Watford’s side commanded signficant fees that bely the club’s modest surroundings. Yet they also fit the profile of an philosophy, a clear long-term vision.

It makes them more likely to be a success, more likely to command a future fee. It makes a descent into a cycle of upheaval far less likely.

Walter Mazzarri has only been in place for 11 months, but the foundations of a powerful, quick side had been put in place by the two previous managers.

His clear desire to play a back three and his early arrival in the summer meant that could be burnished by signings to increase their depth and pace in wide areas. M’Baye Niang, Nordin Ambrabat, Isaac Success are all obvious fits for the style on show.

Sunderland, by contrast, had their two most significant summer signings on the bench.

Their side was padded out with loanees signed out as much of a need for bodies as anything else, who have been unable to make a lasting impression.

A summer of upheaval, little of which was Sunderland’s fault, again left them scrambling in the transfer market, but the signings which were made have not corrected the long-term deficiencies in speed and creativity.

The one player who has grown into the league and begun to grasp the nettle, Didier Ndong, has been on the bench for these last two must-win games.

That it is where the two strands, the short and the long term, have overlapped to all but condemn Sunderland to the drop.

The January signings were said to add much needed depth and support, but that does not quite tally now when arguably the best midfielder of the season is being left out.

Watford are far from the model Premier League club, out of sorts for much of 2017.

Yet the gulf, not great but noticeable nevertheless, between the two tells you why the Black Cats are struggling so much.

Long-term errors and deficiencies compounded in this most brutal season.