Defeat at the Hawthorns on Saturday meant Sunderland had lost their last three Premier League matches. The back to back wins against West Ham and Wigan in January have all but been forgotten in the midst of a four game winless run, which has drained optimism from the Stadium of Light. As the club flirts with another relegation battle, a number of useless comparisons have reared their heads, deepening the gloom on Wearside.
For some supporters this current run of poor form is compounded by the fact that Newcastle United have crept above us, overturning an 8 point gap in the past 4 league games. The further we slide down the table, the more worrying it gets, but being a solitary point behind our neighbours is of little importance at this moment in time. Our season and form are bad enough without being contextualised by their situation. Surely lying 15th in the table and just 5 points above the relegation zone is perspective enough.
It's not just the difference between the two clubs that has become an issue. The catalyst for Newcastle's upsurge in form is Moussa Sissoko, a January signing from Toulouse. For no other reason than he is not Sissoko, Alfred N'Diaye has started to come in for a bit of a hard time. Mistakes and errors he may have been forgiven for when he first signed for the club are now judged more harshly. The reality is, they are completely different players and should be judged independently of one another. N'Diaye has done enough to show some raw potential and needs time to adapt. He does not need pressure from the stands because fans expect more based on what another player is doing at a different club.
It's not just comparisons with Newcastle that have worsened the mood on Wearside. Swansea City's League Cup win, coming as it has midway through their second Premier League season, has prompted a number of fans to ask, "why not us?" That allied to the fact that their cup glory has arrived in Michael Laudrup's maiden season in charge of the Welsh club has left some supporters wondering whether a young, European manager is the way forward for Sunderland.
Of course, the differences between Laudrup walking into the job at Swansea, or even Steve Clarke taking the helm at our weekend conquerors West Brom, are completely different to the situation a manager would be faced with at the Stadium of Light. Both clubs, but Swansea in particular, have been built on long term stability, where successive incoming coaches have a template upon which to build. Players and managers alike are replaceable by someone else who fits the mould. As well as quality, players are found who can slot into the squad and system of play. Compare this with Sunderland and our complete lack of stability in terms of playing staff and it's quite easy to see why O'Neill is having a tough job turning things around. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to say what our style of play was under Bruce. If there was any form of model it was better off abandoned and as such, were Laudrup or Clarke to take the helm at Sunderland as things are, then it is almost certain they would struggle.
Our six season Premier League run is relatively paltry when judged against a number of other sides. A prime example is Everton, who have been in the top flight for longer than Sunderland in recent times. Everton have stuck by David Moyes for over ten years and his reign is generally considered a success despite their trophy cabinet gathering nothing but dust during this period. Perhaps their fans are entitled to feel they deserve some success given their patience. When you consider that alongside Everton, Arsenal are without a trophy in over 7 years, the question becomes "why should it be us who win something?" rather than why isn't it us.
Indeed, regardless of our history and the size and passion of our support, we are no more entitled to silverware than Swansea and no less so than Everton or Arsenal. Similiary, Alfred N'Diaye is not a bad footballer simply because he is not Moussa Sissoko and Sunderland's season is not now a disaster because Newcastle United have gone above us in the league table. It has been a deflating enough season without the needless and unhelpful comparisons that have been flying around of late.