Sunderland hint at another great escape but defensive record tells the story of their season

Sheffield Wednesday surge forward to score their third goal.
Sheffield Wednesday surge forward to score their third goal.
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Wearside stirred but it was a fleeting sensation.

In the build-up to this game Chris Coleman penned an open letter, calling on supporters to create a memorable atmosphere and spur on a team who ‘perhaps didn’t deserve it’.

Birmingham’s win on Saturday night had somewhat knocked the wind out of Sunderland’s sails but there was no doubting an improved mood, a cautious but unmistakable optimism.

In these parts there have been stranger, greater escapes.

When George Honeyman rose at the back post to nod home Lynden Gooch’s cross, the atmosphere became electric.

After giving away a soft goal early in the second half, Lucas Joao firing home from Atdhe Nuhiu’s knock-down, they were level again and looked be poised to press home the momentum.

Coleman has taken the handbrake off his side over the Easter weekend, and they had performed well for the most part.

Creating chances, committing bodies forward, building overlaps for the full-backs.

What followed in the final half hour was a crushing reality check. Old deficiencies coming back to haunt the Black Cats, a lack of presence in their own area and a myriad of individual errors.

Lee Camp had invited pressure on his defence with a poor clearance for the opening goal, and the second came as a free-kick across goal was dealt with by nobody.

Tom Lees drifted unmarked into space and had the easiest finish.

The third was a similar story, Lucas Joao beating his marker to head at goal. Camp could not deal with it convincingly and Nuhiu had an easy finish.

In the blink of an eye hopes of a revival emphatically extinguished.

Luck had not been on Sunderland’s side, it must be said.

Lee Cattermole hit the post with a brilliant effort shortly after Wednesday retook the lead. Within moments, Gooch had been tripped in the box by Barry Bannan but play was somehow waved on.

Even Wednesday boss Jos Luhukay admitted his team had got away with one.

Coleman described it as an ‘incredible’ mistake.

It would have been a different game, certainly. Bannan would most likely have received a second yellow card and in front of a fevered support, Sunderland would have had twenty minutes and an extra man to try and find a winner.

Still, it is no coincidence that this afternoon saw Sunderland reclaim the worst defensive record in the division.

They have now conceded a remarkable 72 goals, so many of them self-inflicted.

As Coleman regularly says, his team have a habit of gifting easy goals to the opposition. They rarely get them in return.

The goalkeeper has changed six times this season, and after this showing, you would not bet against it becoming seven in the near future.

For all Sunderland’s positive attacking play, and Lynden Gooch was impressive again, those deficiencies in their own box continue to push them closer to the Championship drop.

It looks a lost cause now.

Birmingham City have the chance to shut the door tomorrow night by going eight points clear, leaving Sunderland needing three wins from six to even give themselves a chance of surviving.

If Coleman has found a formula that looks like it might be able to deliver the goals required, he just does not have the options to keep them out at the other end. That is a story of mismanagement and under-investment that he looks unable to overcome.