Phil Smith’s SAFC analysis: Sunderland wasting the massive asset of the Stadium of Light

Calamitous start for Sunderland: Fernando Llorente heads Swansea in front on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid.
Calamitous start for Sunderland: Fernando Llorente heads Swansea in front on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid.
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Though it truly seems a lifetime ago, Sunderland had started 2017 at the Stadium of Light in fairly positive fashion.

After an utterly shambolic New Year’s Eve defeat at Turf Moor, Sunderland took on Liverpool and were more than worthy of a 2-2 draw.

David Moyes, so often looking defeated this season, was in a combative and much welcomed defiant mood, hailing the bold press he designed. Didier Ndong and Jack Rodwell were excellent and energetic, Fabio Borini dogged on the right flank.

A pro-active, front-foot performance.

How it should always be at the Stadium of Light, how it has rarely been this season. A fortress in waiting, a priceless atmosphere that a series of wretched performances have never threatened to spark.

The last two home games have seen the ground a shell of itself, drained of the life and fire it had this time last season.

Some will inevitably use that as a stick to beat fans with, but why on earth would it be any different?

Sunderland have, in 2017, offered nothing to tempt fans to stay. The football has been dire, lacking invention, intent or direction.

The performances have been, at best, lethargic, and there has been a complete inability to handle the pressure, to harness the passion in the stands.

This first half against Swansea on Saturday was abysmal, similar to toothless showings against the likes of Southampton and Stoke City when everything was still very much to play for.

There is an utter apathy taking root among the fanbase and it is that, more than the high turnover of players, more than the troublesome financial situation, that is a source of fear for next season.

Owner Ellis Short will share his plans for Sunderland at the end of the season and it will be fascinating to see whether he will elaborate on what he has made of the season that has unfolded.

What does he make of what he saw on Saturday, a woeful side struggling in front of a rapidly emptying stadium? Those who did stay voiced their fury and displeasure more than anything else.

The warning signs have been there for a while. There was a noticeable dip in attendance for the visit of Spurs in January. Two dismal away defeats, to Burnley (FA Cup) and West Brom, were followed by the crushing disappointment of being unable to land a target man to cover for Victor Anichebe, injured again.

To widespread suprise, Sunderland that night were disciplined, impressive and resolute as the manager found a 5-3-2 system to frustrate his illustrious opponents. There have been only two points won at home since then.

Season ticket sales will surely have affected by that, many deciding that there are better things to do with their Saturday afternoon after all.

They can be won back, and wins are, as ever, the answer, but it is unlikely to be anytime soon while such an unpopular manager and group of players remain.

Sunderland’s fanbase and magnificent arena is a major financial and footballing advantage over their Championship rivals, but it is one they will spurn without change this summer. Fans have been reflecting and remembering the wonderful Roker Park, left 20 years ago.

The stadium Sunderland inherited proved to be a fine consolation, retaining that ferocious atmosphere but financially moving the club to another level. It is an asset currently being comprehensively wasted.

It remains Sunderland’s best chance of a revival, yet hope that the right mood can be set is in short supply.