Tony Gillan: So far, so bad for Sunderland but don’t abandon hope just yet

Sunderland concede another goal in the defeat at Leicester City
Sunderland concede another goal in the defeat at Leicester City
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If it is true that we learn from our mistakes, then Sunderland’s players should have obtained an encyclopaedic knowledge of football from their trip to Leicester City alone.

Defensively, it was almost as bad as what we saw at Southampton last season. The only difference was an absence of the greatest own goal of the decade thus far and, mercifully, Leicester not taking all of their chances.

There has been something of a competition going on since Saturday to see who can overreact the most.

But even those of the sunniest disposition have been given much to worry about if that is what a summer of planning has produced. All gumption and guile evaporated when the first goal went in.

What can be said in defence of the defence? Not much based on what we saw four days ago. Saying that the midfield was also inept does not count as a compliment to the defenders.

At least we know that they can play far better. Sebastián Coates looked unruffled at the end of last season against Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Southampton – and Leicester.

Younès Kaboul has been in the Premier League for eight years and we know he is infinitely better than his woeful Sunderland debut would suggest.

Patrick van Aanholt has much talent, but is completely lacking in mental discipline.

Modern full backs do need to be able to attack, but that is very much of secondary importance to a defender’s principal task; defending, which entails not leaving an area the size of Poland for your opponents to run into.

I’m afraid that Billy Jones is, to be kind, someone who has become a regular starter who ought to be no more than a squad player.

He was brought in to replace Phil Bardsley but is not as good; and Bardsley was a decent rather than outstanding right-back.

On his very best days in a Sunderland shirt, Jones has been adequate. Alas, this is the loftiest praise he is likely to receive.

Jones was replaced by Adam Matthews, who can’t have enjoyed his afternoon much either. But I refuse to criticise a young player after 36 minutes of his Sunderland career. We can only hope that the team, who were nearly all terrible, have exhausted their quota of mistakes and failures in a single game.

You can talk about formations until you’re blue in the mouth, but it is of no significance if players spend their time on the pitch making a profusion of simple, easily avoidable errors.

Still, in an almost certainly doomed attempt at cheering you up, we now present you with the positives from Saturday (don’t worry we won’t keep you long).

The visiting supporters were superb. It was a beautiful sunny day, the birds were singing and the trains ran on time. Lee Cattermole wasn’t booked. The 4-2 scoreline had a pellicle of respectability and could have been much, much worse. A team that scored an average of 0.8 goals per game last season put the ball in the net twice (the first one was actually well worked). Defoe and Pantilimon didn’t disgrace themselves. Jeremain Lens looked good in flashes.

By Sunday night Sunderland were above Arsenal in the league. In fact, between tea time on Saturday and bed time on Monday following West Brom’s thumping by Manchester City, SAFC had moved up two places. This sort of form will push them into Europe. The heart sings.

Such as it is, this sort of nonsense is about all anyone will come up with for the “good” news. But there are a couple of more general reasons for not abandoning hope just yet.

The first is that after 30-odd years in management, Dick Advocaat did not suddenly become bad at his job on Saturday morning. The second is that, however dreadful, it was only one game.

Nevertheless, an immediate and considerable improvement is required. There is no such thing as a must-win game at this stage of the season, but failing again against Norwich City this week sounds like a damn bad idea. The Leicester show has added pressure to the next game.

So far so bad.