We should have know what was coming as soon as we saw the team sheet. The surprise news that Jozy Altidore would miss the game with a hamstring injury set fear into the hearts of Sunderland fans but, while the US striker was a huge miss, it's clear that The Black Cats problems lie elsewhere on the pitch, as they slumped to an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park
Sunderland's defending from set-pieces has come in for some criticism so far this season, so it wasn't a great surprise that the home side took the lead from a corner. In what was comfortably the worst of the goals the Black Cats have conceded in the league so far, the ball came into the middle of the six yard box unimpeded, bounced off Celustka's leg and hit Danny Gabbidon before finding it's way into the back of the net. It was a scrappy opener, caused by poor defending, and poor goalkeeping from Kieran Westwood. With less than ten minutes on the clock Sunderland were behind.
The somewhat calamitous nature of the opening goal set the tone for Sunderland's play in the first half, which was characterised by poor passing, as the away side struggled to deal with Palace's pressing game. Ji in particular, much maligned for his performance against MK Dons in mid week, had another torrid forty-five minutes. His best chance came when Adam Johnson played a good ball into the six yard box, only for the Korean to make no attempt to try and get on the end of it, much to Di Canio's visible frustration. It was no surprise when Ji was taken off at the break.
The one bright spark from a Sunderland perspective was Emanuele Giaccherini who was a menace to Palace's right hand side. He used his skill to cut inside and try a delicious looking curling effort, only for Gabbidon to clear for a corner.
However it was Palace who had the better of the half. Miles Jedinak, the player mostly likely to have a Charlie Adam-esque breakout season, broke up attack after attack, and could have doubled his sides lead when he went through on the counter. His shot from distance went just wide. It was through the counter that the home side had their best chances to double their lead, with Sunderland's midfield non-existent. Gayle and Jason Puncheon linked up well, only for the latter's shot to drag wide. Campana, recently signed from Sevilla, was also a threat, and his free-kick would've found Marouane Chamakh free in the box if it wasn't for an intervention from Connor Wickham.
Sunderland came out in the second half much stronger, boosted by the appearance out of the tunnel of Steven Fletcher, who replaced Ji. This was the Scot's first bit of action on the pitch since his injury on international duty back in March. He immediately set about showing the Black Cats what they'd missed, providing a target to aim at and provoking a sense of fear into the fragile Crystal Palace backline. It came as no surprise that he was the one to level the scoring.
It was Fletcher that started the move, playing a pass to Colback on the left hand side. The ginger maestro ran down the touchline and delivered a beauty of the ball into the box, where it was met by a wonderful header from Fletcher, who was running in. It was an excellent goal, and a reminder of just how potent a striker the Scot is.
With Giaccherini by now off the pitch, he proved to be the Black Cats' only goal threat, and if Diakite's header over the top, which completely caught out Gabbidon, had bounced kinder for the Scot, he could have doubled the lead. As it is Gabbidon got back well and cleared for a corner.
It proved to be a case of atrocious defending at both ends of the pitch, with Modibo Diakite letting a ball over the top go back to the keeper, only to find Gayle racing in to get on the end of it. The Frechman had to rush back and just about managed to clear the ball out. The pacy Gale was almost put through against after a David Vaughan error, but this time it was Westwood to the rescue, reading the ball well and coming out to collect.
Given the amount of defensive errors on show it was no surprise that the third goal of the game would come this way. What could not have been expect was that it would come from the experienced, usually reliable John O'Shea. With just twelve minutes remaining the Irishman lost the ball to Gayle on the edge of the box, and then slid into the former Peterborough man to bring him down inside the area. A penalty was given and O'Shea was rightly sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity. Gayle sent a powerful penalty down the middle just under the body of Kieran Westwood.
Down to 10 men, Sunderland struggled to find a way back in the game, though Fletcher almost pounced on a poor Gabbidon header back to keeper, only for Speroni to just about collect. Instead Palace looked more likely to get a third, pouncing on the gaps in the away side's defense. Williams came close, forcing a good save from Westwood, but it was substitute O'Keefe who found the back of the net with a lovely curling effort from outside the box. It was 3-1 and Sunderland's humiliation was complete.
It was an abject performance in so many ways. Aside from the return of Steven Fletcher, who caused Danny Gabbidon serious problems after coming on, and a promising first half performance from Giaccherini, Sunderland were awful in every department. The centre half pairing of O'Shea and Diakite suffered from lapses in concentration, and were caught out time after time.
Not that they were given any protection from a woeful central midfield pairing of Seb Larsson and David Vaughan, who may well have not been on the pitch, such was the space they gave the Palace midfielders. The arrival of Swansea's Ki today on a season long loan will be of much relief to supporters, though we have to wonder what Cabral has done to warrant a place on the bench and questions have to be asked of Paolo Di Canio's team selection in this regard. The Italian claims he isn't 'ready for the Premier League yet', which begs the question as to why Cabral looked ready for the Premier League during his very good opening day performance against Fulham. In a midfield desperately lacking presence and physicality, Cabral could've have been a great help.
Sunderland now have two days to get any final business over the line. Di Canio must get his final players in and can now face the benefit of an international break, and a chance to re-group afterwards. Based on today's performance, he could do with some time to think about how to put things right.
We'll have more match reaction in the coming over the next few days in our Match Stream, HERE.