Phil Smith's verdict: Inside Sunderland's woeful FA Cup exit and what it really means moving forward

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On FA Cup days, it's impossible not to take a moment in front of Bob Stokoe.

In normal times the attendance for this game would have been heavily reduced, but that statue would inevitably have drawn in many in the build up.

Whatever else is going on, this competition should always represent faith on Wearside.

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By full time, he was enveloped in fog, Sunderland limping out to a side who were yet to win a competitive fixture this season.

Mansfield take the lead at the Stadium of LightMansfield take the lead at the Stadium of Light
Mansfield take the lead at the Stadium of Light

The reaction was vicious. Every game, in any competition, has its context.

The short and long-term context of this one collided to create a mood that was in part divided on the consequences, but united in the disappointment.

The short-term context is what, if anything, this defeat means for Sunderland's attempts to win promotion out of League One.

On this, there is wide debate.

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The long-term context is that these numbing days have become all too familiar, and are destined to be repeated for as long as the club remains rooted in malaise under this ownership.

On the pitch, Sunderland fell well short.

There has been some concern that in the last two league fixtures, in which they have seized six valuable points, the contest has been turned on crucial red card and penalty decisions.

A concern persists for many supporters that as long as the Black Cats continue to live on the margins, it will eventually catch up with them.

Even if Mansfield Town's position in League Two is unlikely to remain as dire for long, that they were so comfortably able to match Sunderland was concerning.

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Yes, the Black Cats had made eight changes and it was always likely that there would be a disjointed feel to their performance. Phil Parkinson, though, had no trouble conceding that his XI was more than strong enough to win the game.

This was not a backs-to-the-wall performance from Mansfield, in which they rode their luck and delivered the kind of win where you scratch your head as to how they managed it.

True, the game would likely have been different had Danny Graham converted a glorious early chance, or had Jack Diamond made more of an excellent late opening.

But Mansfield created chances of their own. Nigel Clough's input both before and during the game was minimal, and yet his new team already bore some hallmarks of the Burton Albion side that have caused problems for the Black Cats in recent seasons.

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They were compact out of possession and dangerous in it, reliant on willing runners from midfield and the wide areas.

Their football was good in patches and at times, they were the more fluid of the two teams.

Sunderland did dominate possession, but that they mustered just four shots on target was a reflection of their inability to carve out clear chances.

Parkinson raised eyebrows post-match, seemingly laying the blame at the door of his centre-forwards.

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Yes, he said, his side could have been quicker and braver in possession. His view, though, was that the 38 crosses they put into the box was more than enough to score at least twice.

His assessment was that the desire and movement in the box was not good enough. Will Grigg's chances of a league start anytime soon, then, seem remote.

There was frustration in this, too. Some good crosses, particularly from the left, did go unconverted, but we have been watching Grigg for sometime and it is clear that whipped crosses into the box are not going to yield a return.

Sunderland lacked variety, here, never looking for the passes into the box on which he can thrive.

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If there was one positive in that regard, it was in seeing Elliot Embleton pick up some good positions in central areas, looking to open the defence in a fashion we simply don't see enough from the rest of the side.

More generally, Sunderland's settled combinations, particularly in central midfield, are unlikely to have been threatened by this performance.

What this means for the season ahead is harder to discern.

There were some familiar concerns in some of the play, but a longer lens needs to be placed on that.

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Sunderland can lack variety, but their xG and xGA against is currently the best in League One. Their points-per-game ratio is strong, and from a challenging early fixture list.

It was telling that elsewhere on this early winter afternoon, Lee Bowyer was conceding that his side's cup exit meant little to him.

It's all about the league, and a break later this month will be welcomed by Sunderland in the midst of a punishing schedule. Win promotion, and this rightly becomes a mere footnote to the season.

It is fair, though, to lament that this is the discussion.

On the one hand, the only way to progress is to take League One as it comes, game by game.

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In that sense, Sunderland have made a tentatively encouraging start even if there is much room for improvement.

The bigger picture, though, is harder to ignore on days like this when the sense of drift generally is magnified.

There have been improvements in terms of investment in the academy over the summer, but that department remains without a manager.

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Recruitment remains underpowered, with no appointment made to lead that department.

The fact of the matter is that under this regime, the Black Cats cannot begin to consider any run of substance in a competition such as this one.

Any progress they make on the pitch, and there has been some this season, has a limit.

The collision of these short and long-term goals, and the uneasiness that follows from that, seems set to continue for some time yet.

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