Wise Men Say: This has to be Sunderland's lowest ebb as the alternative doesn't bear thinking about

In a year filled with low ebbs, this might just have been the lowest.

Monday, 7th October 2019, 1:19 pm
Sunderland fans leave Sincil Bank early after the Black Cats go behind.

We certainly hope it is Sunderland’s nadir as, if things can feel worse than they did at around 5pm on Saturday, it does not really bear thinking about.

At a glance, our current position isn’t too disastrous. Still in a play-off spot, four points off second with a game in hand. The 2-0 defeat at Lincoln City was a poor result but it is only Jack Ross’ side’s second defeat of the season. There is plenty of time to get things back on track.

Yet even the most optimistic of Black Cats would surely agree this is a narrow reading of things. If the result didn’t feel embarrassing enough – and it did – then the accompanying performance at Sincil Bank was nothing short of disgraceful.

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Away to a side that has just been promoted, and one which had just lost six of its last seven games, Ross’ men showed nothing. From the kick-off Sunderland were devoid of any discernible plan and, by the end, they were a complete mess.

Central defender Joel Lynch rocking up as a makeshift centre-forward summed things up. The score was two but it should have been three and could easily have been even more than that.

Where they go from here is crucial if the club is to avoid the ignominious prospect of a third consecutive year in the third tier. For many, the dye is cast with the manager: he has to go.

Whatever the excuses he is afforded, the team is too inconsistent, too lacking in the basics, too laborious in attack and too porous in defence. A stated aim of Ross’ this season was to improve the number of clean sheets his side kept.

How damning it is that Sunderland are the only League One club not to have managed one so far this term.

Ross’ position looks very difficult indeed but he is not without competition in this latest version of the blame game. The manager’s tactics and substitutions may be failing the grade but so too did pretty much all of his players on Saturday.

This was a performance without intensity or, really, anything positive at all.

Just how many times Sunderland can go to away grounds and be surprised at clubs treating it like their biggest game of the season is as yet unknown but, not for the first time, the travelling side looked fairly shell-shocked by their hosts’ early aggression and had little in the way of reply.

*Quite where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Behind the scenes, takeover talks rumble on, yet the latest murmurings suggest even that may be close to collapse.

If that turns out to be true then it really is time to fear for what comes next as, on this basis, the current set-up will bear nothing than a mediocre League One side.

And that was perhaps the most galling aspect of the Lincoln defeat: the lack of it being in any way remarkable. From first to last Sunderland looked like a bog standard third tier side. It was not that we crumbled nor that we were unfortunate.

We just weren’t very good, had a bad day which is becoming more and more the norm and, ultimately, looked just like a lot of other sides in this division. Changing the manager is usually the first port of call but Sunderland’s troubles run far deeper.

This wasn’t a one-off. Something wider needs to change. Now.

*[Editor’s note:] Takeover talks are ongoing and Sunderland owner Stewart Donald said last week that clarity on a deal would be reached in a fortnight, with the chairman rating the chances of a deal being completed as ‘better than 50/50’.