What The Manager Said
Unsurprisingly for a man who holds cup competitions in quite high regard, as shown by his strong team selection last night, Martin O'Neill was left crestfallen by his side's display, telling SAFC.com:
It's bitterly disappointing. We've gone out of a competition we did so well in last season very meekly.
After the performance on Saturday it's disappointing that we can't put two consecutive performances like that together.
We didn't do enough in the game.
We need to have consistency, otherwise we're going to go nowhere.
Today we needed to put another performance together. That's the sign of a good team - but we were unable to do that.
We were forced into making changes with [Steven] Fletcher out due to illness, but that shouldn't matter - that was as strong a side as we could put out.
Last season we had a good run in the competition and that run gave us the momentum to keep going in the league too.
Now all the effort that was put into the second half at Bolton means nothing after we've gone out of the competition meekly.
We had a couple of opportunities that we could have done better with but it wasn't enough in the end.
Perhaps the most salient point the manager touched upon was that of consistency, or Sunderland's lack thereof. After Saturday's performance it was not unreasonable to expect another comfortable victory as a result of hard work throughout the side. Instead, on a bleak winter's night, most of the team looked disinterested, and were deservedly beaten by a visiting side that simply wanted to win more than their hosts.
Connor Wickham Is Still Raw
Plenty, including some of us here at Roker Report, have been crying out for Connor Wickham to be given a more prominent role in the first team. Following his performance in the first tie with with Bolton, where he impressively changed the momentum of the game, these calls for his selection only got louder.
On this showing, it is clear why O'Neill has been reluctant to pitch him into his first team so willingly. Though it is fair to say he was scarcely supported by his teammates, Wickham endured a poor night. His hold-up play was below par, he struggled to impact the game, and found himself continuously in the shadow of visiting defender Zat Knight.
Wickham, still only 19, has undoubted talent. Yet he remains, unsurprisingly, a raw entity; a player who can be excellent one week and then anonymous the next. This is not necessarily a criticism, merely par for the course for a young player. Last night simply underlined that, whatever talent he has at his disposal, Sunderland's young striker is not yet ready to lead the line on his own.
Too Many Players Know Their Place
The disinterested and lackadaisical nature of last night's performance confirmed a worrying possibility: that too many players know they are not in Martin O'Neill's long-term plans. O'Neill, a clever man manager, has been careful not to write off the hopes of any of his players, but it would take stupidity of worrying proportions for some not to realise that the Ulsterman will be looking to offload them in the future.
The likes of Matt Kilgallon, Titus Bramble and Fraizer Campbell all fit this mould. Kilgallon and Bramble were one-paced and lethargic in defence. While it would seem odd that they would simply "not try" (and that is not what I'm suggesting), their performances did seem like those of players who know that they're surplus to requirements. To Campbell's credit, he made some good runs and tried vainly to improve his side's situation, but surely he too must know that, once the club can find enough replacement strikers, his days on Wearside are numbered. David Vaughan, too, despite his impressive performance on Saturday, may be expecting to be shown the door in the near future.
Phil Bardsley Should Not Be Captain
The bottom really does seem to have fallen out of Phil Bardsley's Sunderland career. Never technically brilliant but always willing to subsidise that with hard work, the Mancunian full-back is now even struggling to inspire his teammates through hard work.
Given the captain's armband last night, Bardsley was woefully inept. Taking too many touches, running or passing the ball out of play, offering Adam Johnson little support; scarcely anything went right for him. His trait of blaming others for his own mistakes then reared its head once again - hardly what you want from the side's captain.
Predictable Free Kicks
Last night also saw a strange phenomenon, with Sunderland employing a 'shoot on sight' policy for just about every free kick they won in the Bolton half. That only Adam Johnson's first-half effort brought a save from Andrew Lonergan was a worrying indictment of this tactic and the home side's willingness to persevere with it.
Such a decision perhaps underlined the side's lack of aerial threat on show last night; choosing to shoot at least offered some chance of success, whereas lifting the ball into the area was more likely to see it cleared with ease by the visitors. If that was the reason for this tactic, hopefully the signings of Alfred N'Diaye and Kader Mangane, both lofty characters, will see some variety return to the side's set-pieces.