Wise Men Say: Painful Sunderland display, but no need for over-reaction

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TO quote Cheryl Cole, Sunderland’s performance on Saturday was “weak, limp, lifeless”.

Unfortunately for the majority of the Stadium of Light crowd, Gus Poyet could provide neither the tactical or motivational equivalent of L’Oreal to solve the conundrum of his side’s ineptitude.

Indeed, he must take his share of the blame for yet another disappointing showing on home soil. However, some of the reaction to the result and performance have been a tad harsh, with some fans – albeit a minority – calling for Ellis Short to bring Poyet’s burgeoning career on Wearside to an end.

The football hasn’t been great this season, but this particular result is not emblematic of the campaign as a whole and nor does Poyet have a side, let alone squad, yet capable of competing consistently in the Premier League.

His substitutes’ bench alone reeked of a plea to the board and Lee Congerton for reinforcements.

Whether the January cavalry arrives or not, Poyet has done as well as can be expected with what he has at his disposal.

Sunderland have spent the majority of the season without proper full-backs; the importance of that particular role in his system simply cannot be underestimated. The lack of a goalscorer or any sort of pace and movement in the final third has also been as predictable as it is worrying.

There is a deeper question to ponder here too; even if the two or three players that might turn this worse than mediocre squad into a good Premier League one were in place, what should we realistically hope for? Are we not the same as several other clubs in the division, vying to be safe and secure in the boredom of mid-table?

Are we any more deserving than them of the dizzy heights of, say, 10th position?

It’s easy to forget, but this is the longest consecutive run of seasons Sunderland have spent the top flight in the post-war era, and while the football may not be enthralling and the constant relegation battles a source of nagging stress, it has been a lot worse in living memory.

As painful to watch as Saturday’s defeat was, we are lucky to be playing Liverpool at all at the moment. Nobody could have complained if we’d been travelling to Bournemouth at the weekend.

Only a miraculous run of form saved us from us from almost certain relegation and that late surge, coupled with the rare treat of a cup final, may, somewhat paradoxically, have raised our expectations rather than checked them.

We are a work in progress and, more depressingly, we may never be anything but that.

We’re not alone in our angst either; just take a look at the likes of Aston Villa and, more surprisingly, Everton this season. They offer proof that constant growth is rare if not impossible in this division, no matter what the size or history of the club.

Both have been in the top flight longer than us, played in European competitions and flirted with Champions League qualification.

Their current predicaments may not mirror ours perfectly, but they do show that not everyone can complete at the top and nobody has a right to.

They, like Sunderland, are part of an existential crisis going on in the Premier League. Just as Sisyphus pushed his rock up the hill only for it to inevitably roll back down for him to start again, we like many others in the division are locked in a season by season struggle to survive.

No matter how far up the table we go, the likelihood is we’ll be starting at the bottom next season, with many of the same travails ahead.

Take solace in the fact we’re not the only ones and be grateful we’ve not yet been crushed by the rock of relegation.

* The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.