DICK ADVOCAAT is ticking all the familiar boxes to be the long-term Sunderland manager.
Beat Newcastle in the second game at the helm? Check.
It was a display borne of players weak in both mentality and quality, who can maintain single-minded determination in the one-off unique nature of a derby, yet fall utterly flat in the bread and butter games
Come crashing down to earth with a dismal defeat a week later? Check.
Advocaat – hitherto so careful and sparse with his words – even managed to hint afterwards at his frustration with the quality (or lack of) and mentality of the squad he inherited.
He may not have the mouth on him of predecessors Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet, but, so far, he’s following in their footsteps.
But, let’s be frank, despite the likes of Niall Quinn raising the point after the Wear-Tyne derby triumph over whether Advocaat deserves a shot at the job beyond this season, Sunderland need someone at the helm who is in it for the long haul.
This is not going to get any better quickly.
The rot has gone on for too long now to be broken with a canny managerial appointment, who instantly repairs the sticky-back plastic solutions.
At 67, Advocaat might well be able to steady the ship for a year or so, but then Sunderland will be faced with yet another managerial change.
Whether Sunderland are in the Premier League or Championship this summer, this club needs a head coach/manager who is here for the long-term and has a hand in gradually slowing down the descent.
Advocaat doesn’t fit that remit. Even if he keeps Sunderland up, he is only a short-term fix.
As both Di Canio and Poyet rightly identified, root-and-branch reform is needed at Sunderland for this pattern of serial underachievement – where the club always seems to be one game away from chaos – to end.
For example, are recruitment, youth development and the club’s strategy any better now than when Sunderland had the scare of their lives just under 12 months ago?
Long-term, plans may have been put in place, but the evidence of immediate improvement so far this season is not convincing.
Take recruitment. Are Jack Rodwell, Ricky Alvarez and Patrick van Aanholt any better than the three loanees they replaced – Ki Sung-Yueng, Fabio Borini and Marco Alonso?
Sunderland’s problems go far beyond the manager losing heart, losing the dressing room or losing the plot.
The latest shambles simply reiterated that.
Advocaat, like the fans around him and like Poyet four weeks earlier, watched in shock at the spectacular nature of Sunderland’s collapse in the space of 14 minutes against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It was a display borne of players weak in both mentality and quality, who can maintain single-minded determination in the one-off unique nature of a derby, yet fall utterly flat in the bread and butter games.
Going one goal down wasn’t the end of the world. Sunderland’s players could even feel a touch sorry for themselves after Yannick Bolasie’s cross took a wicked deflection and landed on a plate for Glenn Murray two yards out.
Against a Palace team who are no mugs, all Sunderland needed to do was regroup, see the next 10 minutes through and then push for an equaliser.
No, Sunderland had not looked like scoring in an opening 45 minutes which was scrappy, ugly and littered with fouls.
There wasn’t the same intensity as in the derby, nor the same haste in getting the ball forwards.
Losing Seb Larsson in midfield deprived Sunderland of the leader of their pressing game, with Rodwell – very fortunate not to be sent off for a rash challenge – failing to fill that void.
In fairness though, Palace are in a good place right now and did not sit off in the same meak manner as Newcastle. They went hunting the ball to put pressure on the hosts.
Going 1-0 down to a well-drilled outfit was hardly a cause for the white flag.
But that’s exactly what we got from Sunderland... again.
Santiago Vergini, who had looked particularly assured in the first half, went to pieces, while John O’Shea was a liability – his display riddled with mistakes, as it was against Villa in the 4-0 home defeat four weeks earlier.
Alan Pardew didn’t need any tactical masterplan against the side who had caused him so much pain during his tenure at Newcastle.
All Palace did was knock it long and high, prompt Sunderland’s centre-halves to misjudge the flight of the ball in the gusty conditions, and then watch the outstanding Bolasie repeatedly get in behind.
When did Sunderland last have attacking players with such raw pace?
It’s a problem successive managers have identified, yet no solution has been forthcoming.
The embarrassment even managed to put a big dent in Sunderland’s goal difference – now the second worst in the bottom six.
The saving grace – if there is one – is that Sunderland remain three points clear of the drop zone, while fourth-bottom Hull suffered another defeat.
In a different season, Sunderland might have been goners with a tally of 29 points from 32 games, but this year, just one more win might be sufficient for Advocaat to achieve his goal of keeping the club in the top flight.
Another point – let alone another win – may look beyond Sunderland on the basis of their second-half display on Saturday, but if they can raise themselves for just a couple of the final six games, it could be sufficient.
If Sunderland do remain in the Premier League, it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a failure.
There was always a feeling in the corridors of power at the club that beating the drop had to be the first and foremost priority this season after the wholesale changes on a tight budget to the playing squad last summer.
But the regular humiliations and let-downs, particularly when hopes have been built up, are prompting a growing disenchantment at the club’s direction and current squad.
That was why there were so many empty seats before the midway point of the second half.
They have seen all this all before – most recently just four weeks ago.
Casual observers of the Premier League may have criticised that walk-out, yet these supporters have been beaten over the head to the point of becoming disillusioned.
A change in culture is needed and it’s going to need a man in the dug-out blessed with huge reserves of patience to see it come to fruition.
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Jones, O’Shea, Vergini, van Aanholt, Cattermole (Bridcutt 65), Rodwell, Gomez (Johnson 59), Wickham, Fletcher, Defoe. Subs not used: Mannone, Coates, Buckley, Graham, Reveillere. Booked: Rodwell (15), Cattermole (24)
CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Soare (Kelly 35), Jedinak, McArthur (Ledley 69), Puncheon, Zaha, Bolasie (Sanogo 71), Murray. Subs not used: Hennessey, Hangeland, Gayle, Ameobi. Booked: McArthur (67)
Attendance: 42,073. Referee: Anthony Taylor