Phil Smith’s SAFC analysis: Black Cats falling short once again

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There were times in the first half when it felt as if the atmosphere would turn toxic.

The football was appalling, the kind of game that sums up what an unrewarding, numbing, deflating experience life in the lower reaches of the Premier League can be.

Burnley were not contributing much to the spectacle, but there was a tension in the air, heightened as Sunderland struggled to keep hold of the ball and build any sort of pressure.

Had Sunderland conceded, it might have been one of those acrimonious afternoons that all of David Moyes’ recent predecessors suffered.

There was dissent, deflation and voting with feet in previous home defeats, but had Ashley Barnes converted a priceless chance before the break, this could have something different altogther.

It never came to pass in the end, the ground rallying behind a much-improved second-half display that could and should have seen Sunderland win.

At the end, there were boos.

Not prolonged, not particularly vicious. But noticeable and audible, nevertheless.

It leaves Sunderland at something of an impasse heading into what will now be another fortnight post-mortem of another missed opportunity.

Ellis Short was in attendance on Saturday, but any talk that this was a bad omen for Moyes’ future was firmly, definitively dismissed.

Moyes remains firmly in situ and, in Martin Bain, he has firm backing from an influential figure at the club.

The determination to break the wheel and upheaval, a cycle that has financially crippled the club, has arguably been only strengthened by a season of struggle.

The short-term pain, however, is showing no signs of abating and many struggle to reconcile the fact that such a listless set of displays have not seen the dugout come under further pressure.

On balance, this was far from one of the lows of a brutal campaign.

Adnan Januzaj moving out to the left gave Sunderland a good balance, and Fabio Borini really ought to have marked his return to the centre-forward role with a goal.

Sunderland were again undone by a complete paucity of goals from anywhere other than Jermain Defoe.

For the final 20 minutes, Moyes had virtually every fit attacking player at his disposal on the pitch.

No matter what changes to the system, and injuries have forced subtle switches with vurtually every game, Sunderland have not been clincal enough.

That did, it must be said, make the decision not to select Didier Ndong a strange one.

Moyes wanted ‘Britishness’ in midfield to combat Burnley’s hard runners, but Ndong is one of the few players who can win the ball back in the opposition half, getting the ball to the likes of Januzaj and Defoe in areas where they can advance on goal and push defenders back.

That almost led to the the crucial goal, though Wahbi Khazri’s pass to Defoe was overhit. That frustrated, but, in the Tunisian’s defence, it was his first touch of the game.

Sunderland simply fell short, again.

This season, the squad, and it cannot ever be overstated just how debilitating injuries have been, has simply not been good enough.

They are close to the drop now, even if fourth-bottom Swansea’s struggles offer a chink of light.

The conversation will soon turn as to who is best for a rebuild breathaking in scale.

The tension, frustration and at times apathy in the air at the Stadium of Light shows that many are yet to be convinced it is the current regime.

There have simply been too many days of disappointment.

Yet, for the time being, change is simply not in the offing.