IT may invite accusations of deliberately courting controversy, but we were left with the feeling at 5pm on Saturday that Sunderland could perhaps have done a little better against Crystal Palace.
As was widely predicted, yet another derby win was immediately followed by yet another dreadful display against moderate opposition. Once again, a perfectly serviceable gloat was truncated.
It is as if a victory over Newcastle is only there to sugar the pill of the misery that is never far behind. It is rather like being taken to Disneyland by your parents the week before your operation.
Must it always be this way? One game won by work-rate, guile, tenacity and a world-class goal; the next performance would not guarantee a win against an amputee second XI.
Sunderland need only to play moderately well to remain in the overrated Premier League. The phrase we used last week to describe the required standard was “not abysmal.” But guess what....
There are many mistakes that can occur on a football pitch but only one crime – failing to try the utmost. It was difficult to see how virtually all of the Sunderland side had in any way tried their best. Professional pride alone should ensure this.
The forward line did not bother to harry the Palace back four; the midfield did not work hard enough to retrieve the ball on the many occasions when they lost it.
For reasons of space, taste, decency and legality I am unable to elaborate upon the shortcomings of Sunderland’s defence. It is unlikely that anyone needs clarity from me on the matter of how bad Sunderland’s defence was, but the following is worth considering.
Before Saturday, the former Plymouth Argyle, Rushden, Barnet and Bristol City superstar Yannick Bolasie had scored one goal from 28 appearances for Palace this season. He scored none from 30 last. Overall it was four goals from 99 league appearances for Yannick, three of the four were in the Championship.
But his class told against Sunderland. It took him 11 minutes to rattle in a hat-trick.
Saturday’s first half was below par. The second half was horrendous. What we hoped had been flushed out of the system against Aston Villa a month ago was essentially repeated.
Will there be an improvement at Stoke City on 25 April? Predicting that it won’t be any worse is not the boldest forecast I can make.
A defeat like Saturday’s brings forth the inevitable claptrap about how the wrong-about-everything failure Paolo Di Canio “was right about fitness levels.” Fairytales about the players’ social lives notwithstanding, the stiff-armed buffoon didn’t make the players any fitter, just miserable and devoid of morale.
More importantly, the problem now, as then, is not physical fitness – Sunderland’s players are no more or less fit than average. The problem is gumption.
The embarrassing final scorelines against Palace and Villa are almost irrelevant.
More salient is that as soon as Sunderland fall a single goal behind, they have lost; as though an equaliser is like time travel, possible in theory only. Mercifully they did not fall behind 10 days ago.
A significant problem at the club has can be found between the ears of the players.
FOR those of you who missed Match of the Day on Saturday evening, perhaps preferring instead to worm the dog or set fire to your own feet, we can confirm that Gary Lineker took the trouble to make the world’s least original joke.
The junk food salesman was contributing to the post-mortem of Sunderland’s efforts of the afternoon. Praise be for experts, otherwise we might not have realised that there was perhaps some scope for criticism of the lads’ performance.
Gary said: “If you want to miss the traffic at Sunderland, wait ‘til the end of the game.”
On Match of the Day this is considered a real side-splitter. It certainly drew laughs from the easily pleased Danny Murphy and Jermaine Jenas, who had presumably not heard the joke on any of the 428 occasions it was employed after the Sunderland-Villa game.
However, it is true that only a trickle of the impressive 42,073 crowd remained at the end. So are the early leavers eligible for criticism for not staying to encourage their team?
Of course not. I have often wondered what compels people to leave five minutes from time when a game is drum tight, but that was hardly the case on Saturday.
Quite understandably, many people could not bear to watch. Sunderland have never conceded five goals at the Stadium of Light. It was surprising that neither Palace nor Villa managed to alter this, given how little time it took them to score four.
It is human nature to avert one’s eyes from something that is truly excruciating. It is why no sensible person would wish to watch the Battle of the Somme, or Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
The mass departure did not make matters deteriorate. How could it? All Sunderland supporters want to cheer on their team, but they need something to work with.
For the record, I was one of those who stayed until the end. I could lie to you and say that this was down to fortitude and mental toughness; but the truth is that I have to.
Given the same circumstances, that sort of exodus happens at every club. The reason is that seats are empty is because people can’t bear to watch their team playing so badly.
The exception to this is at the Sports Direct Arena, where they flatter themselves by calling it a “boycott.”