Phil Smith: Sunderland sadly not fit for purpose, even at Championship level

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Sunderland is a club well used to malaise, to a sense of existential crisis and a lack of direction.

There have been many implosions, many defensive collapses.

Jordan Spence puts Ipswich 2-1 up from Martyn Waghorn's cross. Picture by Frank Reid

Jordan Spence puts Ipswich 2-1 up from Martyn Waghorn's cross. Picture by Frank Reid

Even accounting for all of those, this must be the nadir of modern times.

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The alarm bells have been ringing for a while, but last night in Suffolk they began to make an almighty din.

Sunderland were rudderless, opened up by the simplest of moves, unable to defend crosses into the box or long balls over their shoulders.

They gave away two simple goals at the beginning of the second half to put themselves out of the game, but it could have been all over long before the half-time whistle.

A late rally was meaningless, and sure enough brought to a swift end by an atrocious of sequence of play that led to Grant Ward rounding the goalkeeper and scoring Ipswich’s fifth goal.

The five goals absolutely did justice to the quality of Sunderland’s performance.

In a season when ghosts of the past have returned to expose the fragility of the present all too regularly, Ipswich’s Martyn Waghorn brutally exposed his former team’s fragility.

He was a bundle of energy and ingenuity, his work ethic and drive in stark contrast to that of his opponents.

Lamine Kone was a shadow of the player who made such an impact on Wearside in his first six months, never seeming to know where his man was or what position he should be in. He was second to every ball, beaten to almost every header.

That was mirrored all over the pitch, a raft of pre-match changes again leading to a side that had no cohesion and no structure, no presence in the heart of midfield.

Even though, at times, they had a backline of six players, Sunderland were still unable to get to grips with Ipswich’s energetic frontline.

That the return of Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman brought greater quality in the other half of the field will be of little consolation to anyone.

If talk of a relegation scrap had seemed over the top not so long ago, it is apt now. This team bears all the hallmarks of a side in freefall, with the same basic deficiencies as the side which meekly fell out of the Premier League last season.

Where do you go from here?

Questions will be asked of the manager after such a poor display, and there is no escaping the alarming decline in Sunderland’s play since the promising opening games of the season.

The tinkering has been in part forced by injuries, but there have been unforced errors, too. Grayson has not had much time to work with his players on the training ground and it is showing in their performances.

The constant change of system and personnel seems to be making a bad situation worse.

Gone is the consistency and resilience of the early season, replaced by a worrying lack of discipline and structure.

Most worryingly, this defeat suggested that Sunderland have not yet ‘bottomed out’.

The gap to the top half is already eight points and there are no signs of it closing any time soon.

Grayson desperately needs the two-week international break – which comes after Saturday’s visit to Preston – to make good on his reputation as an exemplary motivator and organiser at this level.

What damage will be done by the time he gets there, remains to be seen.

To his horror and that of everyone associated with the club, it is clear that a squad overhaul and change of management is not enough.

This was an abject evening that offered no glimpse of revival. Even at this level, Sunderland simply do not look fit for purpose.