STEVE Bruce admitted it was a case of “rip it up and start again” for Sunderland’s coaching staff after the Black Cats’ defensive decline continued unabated at Everton.
All last week at the Academy of Light, the squad practised defending set-pieces – the side’s Achilles heel in recent games.
But, at Goodison Park on Saturday, the Wearsiders were undone by two routine balls pumped forward in open play which they simply failed to handle at the first, second or even third attempt.
And Bruce conceded afterwards that it was becoming increasingly hard to credit the way his side had suddenly become a soft-touch at the back.
“As coaches, we’ve really got to ask ourselves where we’re going wrong,” he sighed.
“Maybe we could change personnel.
“But the injury problems have left us down to the bare bones and the fact that we don’t have competition for places could be a problem.”
Bruce was probably referring to the fact that the absence of several key players have weakened Sunderland over the last few months.
But there was more to it than that – there was a lack of heart, of spirit, of genuine ambition about Sunderland on Saturday.
“The goals were poor,” frowned Bruce.
“We’ve shown resilience throughout this season and I’ve been proud of that, but we didn’t in this game.
“It wasn’t just the defenders who were too blame, it was the rest of the team – we were too open, too wide, not solid enough.
“The one thing I take pride in – as a former defender myself – is our defence.
“And up to a month ago we were doing smashing.
“So whatever’s gone wrong, we need to sort it because we’re going nowhere fast.
“Set-pieces have been our problem recently and we’ve looked at that,
“But against Everton it was different problems and we have to look at how we’re going to improve in that area because, as a club, we are totally focused on finishing this season strongly.”
Saturday’s 2-0 reverse means Sunderland managed not a single point from their four February games, and they have not kept a clean sheet since securing their 11th of the season in the 1-0 win at Aston Villa on January 5.