One step forward and two back for Sunderland after another insipid home showing

Ethan Pinnock heads home the winner
Ethan Pinnock heads home the winner
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One step forward, two steps back.

If Sunderland had moved on from their awful Boxing Day showing with a fine win over Nottingham Forest, their worst habits were on show again here. A home showing painfully familiar to all who saw 2017's tribulations at the Stadium of Light.

One paced, insipid attacking. A game given away by a soft goal conceded.

Relegation fears back again in force as Barnsley surged four points clear in the table.

The alarm bells has been ringing from the early stages of the game, Barnsley sharper to second balls, moving it quickly and pushing the hosts back.

After Aiden McGeady lost the ball in a dangerous position, Mamadou Thiam rattled the crossbar from 25 yards with Robbin Ruiter well beaten. Soon after a corner broke to the edge of the area where Adam Hamill fired wide on his left foot.

The Black Cats were off the pace but did begin to feel their way into the contest, Darron Gibson showing his quality with a number of sumptuous long passes out to the right wing. Their first effort came when Callum McManaman drove past two midfielders, only to slice his shot straight at Adam Davies.

Sunderland created some good openings but James Vaughan just couldn't quite make the most of them, with Paul Heckingbottom's side continuing to threaten sporadically at the other end. Ruiter had to be alert when Lloyd Isgrove broke clear of Donald Love down the left, the winger shooting straight at the Dutchman from close range.

Darron Gibson's ongoing groin problem caught up with him and the Irishman had to be taken off shortly after the half hour mark, robbing Sunderland of their best player in the game. They struggled to keep their composure after that but did rattle the woodwork just before half-time when Bryan Oviedo's curling free-kick struck the post.

The Costa Rican surprisingly did not emerge for the second half, replaced by Josh Maja as Sunderland switched to a 4-4-2 system.

Less than two minutes later they were behind, Adam Matthews allowing Ethan Pinnock to ghost past him and head in Zeki Fryers' corner.

The Black Cats were floundering, fortunate that Ruiter was again able to deny Isgrove with a fine block as he raced off his line.

Their first effort of any real significance came 20 minutes into the half, a long throw headed to the edge of the area where Paddy McNair fired wired with a thumping volley. By this point, Joel Asoro had replaced Callum McManaman as Coleman desperately searched for an attacking spark.

It became a torturous watch as Barnsley took all the sting out the game, drawing a number of yellow cards from referee Rob Jones for timewasting. The time Sunderland did spend on the ball counted for little, producing precious few moments of quality. It was a tough watch for the home support who were left with little hope that an equaliser was coming.

Josh Maja had a header deflected narrowly over the bar but in truth the visitors looked as likely to score on the break as conceding themselves, comfortably seeing out the game.