Phil Smith’s SAFC analysis: Familiar tale of woe as sad Sunderland are simply fading away

Lee Cattermole offered passion in midfield on his return
Lee Cattermole offered passion in midfield on his return
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Indecision. Frustration. Anger.

A familiar pattern.

Lamine Kone and Jordan Pickford despair as Sunderland go 1-0 behind last night. Picture by Frank Reid

Lamine Kone and Jordan Pickford despair as Sunderland go 1-0 behind last night. Picture by Frank Reid

The story last night was so predictable that it does not need spelling out.

Fundamentally, Sunderland were undone by a lack of stamina, fading in the final half an hour as they have done so often this season.

Undone by a chronic lack of confidence in front of goal, always seeming to take just one touch too many.

Undone by defensive lapses and a lack of speed.

Jermain Defoe and Bryan Oviedo battle against Riyad Mahrez

Jermain Defoe and Bryan Oviedo battle against Riyad Mahrez

Chronic failures reinforced by poor transfer window after poor transfer window.

Again, however, questions will be asked as to why the race was already run by the time the cavalry was sent for.

The Black Cats had been flagging for 10 minutes by the time Islam Slimani powered home a towering header from the penalty spot.

Indecision reigned and while Foxes boss Craig Shakespeare seized the moment, the Black Cats dithered.

Hooking Demarai Gray was a decision that raised eyebrows, the fleet of foot winger posing real problems but wasteful with the end product.

Marc Albrighton came on for Leicester and delivered two perfect balls, settling the game, Jamie Vardy making it 2-0.

Victor Anichebe and Wahbi Khazri were introduced for the visitors, but the damage again, was done. Again Sunderland finished the game chasing shadows, the Foxes doing all the running and at times attacking at will.

Having at one stage looked full of fight, the visitors were meek.

One point from the last three games, and no goals, is a dismal return. Particularly given that, for the most part, Sunderland’s injury woes have cleared.

They were better for the opening hour, without a doubt.

David Moyes switched to a 4-4-2 shape and it helped Sunderland to find a better tempo. They worked the ball into the wide areas reasonably well, Didier Ndong and Bryan Oviedo both delivering excellent crosses that just didn’t quite find a Black Cats target.

Most impressively, they were by far the dominant force in midfield.

Wilfried Ndidi is one of the Premier League’s rising stars but here he was poor, partially due to some aimless passing, but mostly because of the tenacity of his opponents.

How Lee Cattermole has been missed.

Back in the side for the first time since September, he was organising, covering, pressing, always looking for the simple but effective out ball.

Jack Rodwell was equally game alongside him and while neither threatened the goal or looked like playing the killer ball, they built a stronger platform than Sunderland have had in a game for a while.

Out for so long, as David Moyes has been right to warn, Cattermole was always going to fade.

That he did, and an emboldened Leicester took the initative.

A change should surely have been made, if not from the substitutes’ bench then perhaps to bring one of the wide players infield, if only for a short period, to bolster and hold the fort while Anichebe was readied.

Another missed opportunity.

Three in a row, now.

Sunderland have, most frustratingly of all, failed to keep the pace, to stay in touch, when they still have three of the bottom four left to play.

Why has the goal drought become so severe?

Sunderland were not as tame in attack as they were at Vicarage Road in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat.

They forced far more work from the opposition goalkeeper and defence, the set-pieces were much improved for the most part, putting the Foxes defence under genuine pressure.

Moyes at least recognised that this front three from the previous two games had to be changed, too lightweight, too slack in possession.

To bolster the wide areas made sense, but there comes a point when picking Fabio Borini does not.

There appears to be a hope that he can spark into form as Connor Wickham so famously did, but all evidence on the pitch points to the contrary.

The Italian looks short of confidence, unable to make a significant impact on or off the ball.

Manchester United, and Zlatan, now begin to loom ominously on the horizon.

The Black Cats are now sinking, this campaign beginning to become one of their worst in the Premier League.

There is a sense of drift, inevitability, and futility setting in that brings back painful memories of Howard Wilkinson and Mick McCarthy.

The basic level of intensity and work-rate required was at least there at the King Power, for an hour at least.

That is the minimum required for the remaining eight games as David Moyes seeks to convince the Wearside faithful that better times are indeed just around the corner.

The drop will inevitably initiate an extraordinary turnover of this squad.

Sunderland’s only hope of a better future is that their long-term failings are finally addressed.

Better this may have been for the most part, but by the end it was, predictably, just not enough.