Wise Men Say: Sunderland must show they have to stomach for a fight

Sunderland sub Steven Pienaar takes on Southampton on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland sub Steven Pienaar takes on Southampton on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid
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Sunderland’s proclivity for being Sunderland has fast become something of a nuisance.

Southampton’s 4-0 win on Saturday would have been all the more frustrating were it not entirely what wearied followers have come to expect from David Moyes’ men.

Fresh from a frankly outrageous result at Selhurst Park, it was difficult not to feel a sense of optimism.

The thumping handed out to Crystal Palace suggested that, as had looked the case before Christmas, the Black Cats may just be able to grind out the results they need in the battle against the drop; a hard-fought clean sheet against Spurs days earlier suggested the team had found some much-needed resilience for the weeks and months ahead.

The meeting with Southampton did not fit the bill of the archetypal ‘six-pointer’, but it did still represent a strong opportunity for extending the unbeaten run to three games. Claude Puel’s men, though Wembley finalists later this month, had suffered six defeats in seven league games.

The first 25 minutes or so suggested Moyes’ men were in no mood to relinquish that opportunity. In place of the injured Jack Rodwell, Darron Gibson settled into the game with ease, recycling possession in a manner befitting someone who learnt his trade at Old Trafford.

Alongside the bite and awareness of Bryan Oviedo at left-back, it seemed possible that, for the second season running, Sunderland’s January transfers may provide the impetus to propel the side to safety.

To the visitors’ credit, Gibson’s attempts to thread through Jermain Defoe were met with resolve, as the Saints snuffed out everything that came the latter’s way.

Still, this was not a contest which suggested one side was rooted to the bottom of the table.

It was predictable, then, that the visitors scored with effectively their first attack of the game.

The very notion of an ‘M Gabbiadini’ being allowed to score against Sunderland should surely be outlawed, but the inevitable proved just that as Manolo, not Marco, fortuitously saw Lamine Kone’s headed clearance rebound off him and into the net. No matter – we go again.

Except, for this Sunderland side, ‘going again’ is just the problem.

Time and again, any sense of adversity has been met not with strength but wilful surrender.

From being well in the game and showing fight, Moyes’ side once more capitulated. The remainder of the first half was in no way a walkover for the Saints, but the draining of fight from the Wearsiders was evident.

Gabbiadini’s second goal, though coated in quality – the striker’s turn and the preceding pass from Dusan Tadic were pure class – summed up the mental fragility of this side in conceding right on half-time.

Such concessions have fast become a theme of the season. That second, combined with Jason Denayer’s late own goal and Shane Long’s rubbing of salt into the wounds, means that Sunderland have now conceded no fewer than 12 goals this term in the last five minutes of either half.

Where successful sides are renowned for playing until the final whistle, Moyes’ men instead seem determined to prove the opposing maxim true.

The goodwill from Crystal Palace has been extinguished. Once again, the question arises: do they have the stomach for the fight, or is it a case of same old Sunderland?

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