Tony Gillan: Sunderland supporters have nothing to feel embarrassed about Barnsley - they weren’t the ones on the pitch!

Barnsley FC 3-1 Sunderland FC, Football League Championship, Oakwell 26th August 2018.  Picture by FRANK REID
Barnsley FC 3-1 Sunderland FC, Football League Championship, Oakwell 26th August 2018. Picture by FRANK REID
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You think this job is easy?

Generally speaking – it is. I much prefer to make a living by typing out my thoughts than by doing a real job. But there are limits.

Writing a column on a subject that you would, at this moment in time, prefer not to even think about is asking much. It wasn’t always this way.

I was having a perfectly agreeable time in South Yorkshire on Saturday. Then the game kicked off.

Most of the players should be embarrassed. At least one of them should be categorically ashamed.

The same supporters created a vibrant atmosphere at 3pm, which should have buoyed the team.

But it had all putrefied long before the final whistle.

When, with 20 minutes remaining your most realistic wish is to only lose by three goals to Barnsley, then your side is in more than a spot of bother.

At one stage in the second half the home supporters gave a lungful rendition of a song with unwholesome lyrics that alluded to the lack of merit in the visiting team.

The response of the away fans?

They joined in. Yes, virtually the whole of the stadium was screaming, with nothing like uncertainty, that Sunderland’s performance was feeble.

As this perversely special moment was at least 15 months in the making, it can hardly be considered a knee-jerk reaction born of a sense of grievance that was in any way unreasonable.

Some confidence had been built before the Sheffield Wednesday game, but the execrable performance at Oakwell showed just how fragile that confidence was.

Mental strength? What’s that? Barnsley’s first goal ended the game.

Their other two were academic because Sunderland gave up on the spot.

Leeds United have not commenced a season in the Premier League for 14 years. There is a reason for this. They were unremarkable at the Stadium of Light.

Inexperienced Barnsley were less impressive still at Oakwell; in fact they were quite poor. Yet both Leeds and Barnsley deserved their wins – and by the respective scorelines.

So where does that leave Sunderland? This is the most worrying aspect and ever more inventive thinking is needed to find hope.

But I think I’ve found some. Bear with me. Then either agree with me – or pretend to. You’ll feel better.

Sunderland can play better. They showed this in their first three games. In fact they showed it in the first quarter of the match at Barnsley. Before Leeds, matters were not wonderful, but they were satisfactory. Five points out of nine.

Only two weeks ago, this column praised the hard work and concentration shown in the Derby and Norwich games.

Perhaps we should have mentioned that the same application is required in every fixture.

Losing the last two games should not elicit despair. Although it makes the next one, at home to Sheffield United, look rather more important than it did before.

Then there is the transfer window.

I know it closes tomorrow at the same time as the pubs. But umpteen deals will be made before then, so let’s hope some of them are favourable to Sunderland: out as well as in (Wahbi Khazri’s position now looks untenable).

Hope, hope, hope. It isn’t the same as optimism and even less like confidence. But cling on to it; if you can.

The main source of hope is from history. Twenty years ago Sunderland were relegated then made a poor start to the following season.

The lowest point was a 4-0 scudding to Reading at Elm Park; a performance that was even direr than Saturdays.

But changes were made and the performance and reaction stung some professional pride (remember that). Sunderland would lose only three of their remaining 36 games.

Strangely, Elm Park provided Sunderland’s best result that season.

Well that’s what I’m clinging to anyway. Should you still fail to see any reason to hope, let alone be optimistic, there is still the following to consider.

Contrary to current commonly expressed opinion, Sunderland supporters have nothing to feel embarrassed by.

They weren’t the ones on the pitch.