Under-pressure Jack Ross faces fan anger but Sunderland squad must improve too after shambolic Lincoln City defeat
As kick-off approached at Sincil Bank, there were a significant number of Sunderland fans still outside the ground, lengthy queues to get through the turnstiles.
Some missed the kick-off. Little did they know they’d have been better off missing the whole game.
For this was, without a doubt, the worst performance of the Jack Ross Sunderland era.
Worrying on so many levels. The lack of effort and workrate unforgivable.
A few dozen fans had seen enough when Tyler Walker swept home their second with less than an hour on the clock, it followed a superb counter-attack after sub Aiden McGeady gifted possession.
Chants of ‘cheerio’ and ‘we can see you sneaking out’ rained down from the home stand.
Come full-time a sizeable chunk of the sold-out 1,900-strong away following had already left. Those still inside the ground let the players know exactly what they thought. Angry fists and raised voices aimed at those Sunderland players brave enough to head towards them to clap.
And who could blame them? Sunderland were dire, directionless and increasingly desperate as the game wore on.
Jack Ross made his way down the tunnel, after shaking hands with Michael Appleton, who tellingly later admitted he was surprised at how direct Sunderland’s play had been.
What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday Sunderland had dominated MK Dons in a superb opening 45 minute spell, two stunning goals helping seal a 2-1 victory.
Fast forward seven days, Ross named the same starting XI with the welcome sight of McGeady and Marc McNulty returning to the bench after injury.
This was a chance to put a marker down, secure back-to-back wins and close the points gap to league leaders Ipswich Town.
Instead, it was the complete opposite.
Sunderland started poorly, the Lincoln players quicker to loose and second balls, drawing a string of fouls from Joel Lynch, Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire before the latter was booked.
Ill-discipline and stray passes a regular feature of the performance, a lack of ideas, pace, creative spark and nous too.
Lincoln could even afford to miss a penalty, while McGeady and McNulty had little impact when they entered the action for the final half hour.
Fingers were rightly being pointed at Ross. By his own admission he was embarrassed by the ‘performance’. Responsibility ultimately lies at his door.
He coaches the team, picks the side, prepares them for the game. The dismal defeat and the manner of it reflected badly on him.
If this was a one off then there may be more patience but this display followed the 3-0 loss at Peterborough United and the draw at Bolton Wanderers, a game which saw Sunderland snatch a point from the spot at the death.
Fans were calling for Ross’ head during the Bolton draw. However, there weren’t any chants against the manager at Sincil Bank, or at least none clearly heard.
Apathy is often worse than anger.
Ross doesn’t use Twitter but if he did he’d have been wise to avoid it post-match, a tidal wave of Sunderland fans queueing up, calling for him to be sacked, fans including the Twitter handle of owner Stewart Donald to ensure their point was clearly heard.
Talking of Twitter, there was an unsavoury video doing the rounds post-match of Tom Flanagan getting abuse from a supporter as he signed autographs after the game.
Flanagan didn’t even play. The defender was an unused sub yet was still on the receiving end of abuse. Emotions are running high.
There is no doubt that there is now a significant portion of the fanbase who no longer have faith that Ross is the man to lead Sunderland to promotion this season.
The Black Cats have dropped points in six games this season already, those voices louder by the week.
We are only 11 games in, the situation is not beyond repair, but will Ross get the time to turn things around and spark the long winning run needed - is this team and squad even capable?
It seems highly unlikely that any major decisions would be made before a takeover is announced, or otherwise. The club is in limbo.
There are mitigating factors for Ross, who has had to put up with more than most managers when it comes to off the field uncertainty.
The wage bill was cut this summer, experienced players who would undoubtedly improve this team moved on.
He wouldn’t admit it publicly, but the constant takeover talk must have an affect on Ross, staff and the players, especially with so many out of contract next summer and their own futures so uncertain and will remain that way until the ownership situation is resolved and decisions can be made.
Jon McLaughlin springs to mind immediately but there are several others.
A lengthy two-week international break won’t help matters. It was the same after the Peterborough loss. A lengthy post-mortem.
There are problems all over the pitch. From McLaughlin’s mixed form in goal to misfiring Wyke and Grigg up front, to the lack of pace in the side to the inability to keep a league clean sheet.
Tuesday’s game against Grimsby won’t prove much of a distraction given Sunderland are likely to make widespread changes for the Leasing.com Trophy.
Ross is facing the brunt of the abuse but the players must stand-up and be held accountable too.
The display fell way below the standards expected at Sunderland. Way below. It was shambolic, at times.
Ross won’t do this but there is an argument for the Scot to name the same starting line-up against Grimsby as a way of public punishment.
Mind, you wouldn’t even bet on them to beat Grimsby given how bad Saturday was.
The novelty of last season wore off very quickly this season. Stringing together a run of wins is the only thing that matters if Sunderland are to get back to the Championship.
But that seems some way off currently. And whether Ross is the right man to lead that charge is the big question hanging over Sunderland AFC?
So many questions on Wearside with, as yet, so few answers or clarity.
The players let Ross down badly on Saturday but ultimately, rightly or wrongly, the buck always stops with the manager.
Intriguing times once again at the Stadium of Light.