Cup Catastrophe Cost Us - Nick Holden
Rewind just a month and a half ago to Wembley, and everything about Sunderland feels different. For the first time in ages fans, club and team all feel on the same page. Finally we'd taken a cup seriously, and our reward was a weekend we'll never forget. Even as we left London defeated finalists, the mood stayed buoyant. As everyone was saying in the pubs and on the concourse before the game "so long as we show up, I'll be happy". No one expected a win, but we did expect a performance. And that's exactly what we got.
So even after the disappointment of losing a Wembley, there was still a massive amount of goodwill around Sunderland. We'd been winning matches in the cup and in the league, and the relationship between players and supporters seemed to have picked up. Unfortunately that wasn't to last.
Our exit to Hull in the FA Cup was the beginning of the end. It wasn't just that we lost, people could accept that, it was that the team that was sent out was perceived to be weakened. More than that, the team that was sent out didn't seem to care or fight for it. The brilliance of the League Cup run was players and fans daring to dream, going for glory. The misery of the FA Cup defeat was that whilst fans still dreamed of another run, the players (and management?) didn't seem bothered. This did catastrophic damage to the relationship between stands and pitch that was just beginning to become more understanding.
As well as this, the loss also took away the club's momentum on the pitch. It's a cliche, but winning breeds confidence. Another cliche; winning is a habit. It didn't matter that we were winning games in the cup, beating the likes of Southampton, Chelsea and Manchester United gave the team the confidence to play like they did against Fulham and Newcastle in the league. Once that winning habit was taken away, the team became jittery again. Just like when you take a week off an exercise plan and struggle to get back on the bike, getting out of the habit of winning at Hull in the FA Cup meant Sunderland are unable to get back into it.
League Loss The Key - Michael Graham
For me, the league defeat to Hull - the Wes Brown catastrophe - was far more damaging. That was the chance to haul ourselves up into midtable and relieve the pressure. That was the chance to get to within sight of the finishing line and bask in the confidence that would have provided. We blew it.
And that's what made it SO damaging. We weren't beaten, out-fought, out-classed or anything else - we blew it. We surrendered our chance through mindless stupidity.
Forget what 'message' playing a weakened team in the FA Cup did. What message did the comedic botching of our lines on the day we held our destiny more firmly in our hands than at any other point this season send out? That we can't escape? That we lack the courage to succeed? That someone up there simply wants us gone?
That, for me, was the single most damaging day of the whole season so far. That's the blow from which we still haven't recovered.