So it goes on; the wait for a home victory continues. The run stretches to seventeen games, and with only five more remaining at the Stadium of Light in 2017, going a whole calendar year without picking up a win on home soil is becoming even more of a possibility.
Bristol City, Bolton, Millwall, Reading and Fulham are still to travel to Wearside before we bid a very welcome farewell to 2017. Stellar names they are not, but neither were Sheff Utd, Forest, Cardiff or QPR, each of whom picked up points against us. Our home form is no longer just a concern, it has ballooned to such an extent that could ultimately turn the entire campaign into a catastrophe, and the sooner we pick up three points on Wearside the better.
The significance of such a barren run is undoubtedly at the forefront of the players’ mind when they cross that white line each Saturday afternoon. Confidence cannot be used as an excuse, but it is a huge contributing factor in our continuing struggles on our own patch.
I find it hard to take that taking a point at home is acceptable, especially in this league. That may sound like a bizarre statement to make considering the enormity of the current situation at Sunderland. We need to win at home for a multitude of reasons, not just to boost our points tally. I’ve said before and I’ll say again - we need around 52 points to survive in this league, 44 from our remaining 34 games. I’m already looking out for the results of the likes of Burton and Bolton - the situation is getting that desperate already.
In the first half yesterday our back four looked all at sea at times. Granted, it was a somewhat makeshift defence, with Jones at centre-back and O’Shea keeping his place after starting at Preston. Jason Steele fumbled a shot early on at was at fault for Rangers’ goal. Didier Ndong’s sloppy header resulted in the needless concession of a corner; and Steele remained static on his line as Sylla nodded in the opener. Sylla should have doubled the lead before the break and Sunderland headed down the tunnel to a chorus of boos once again. It was Groundhog Day at The Stadium of Light.
The opening 15 minutes of the second half yesterday was some of the worst football I’ve witnessed in many years on Wearside, and believe me when I say that I thought long and hard about whether to include such a statement. Adam Matthews failing to control a simple pass as the ball trundled out of play was desperately poor. John O’Shea’s free kick that found touch however, was comical. The manager has his flaws sure, but I’m afraid there’s nothing he can do from the dugout when such blatant mistakes are made. The buck stops with the players.
The lack of leadership was galling. Our rudderless ship was taking on water at an alarming rate and we looked destined to sink to new depths - there looked only one likely winner, and the atmosphere threatened to turn toxic once again. Aiden McGeady came up trumps with a cracking goal after a period of play in which our own supporters ironically jeered each one of our successful passes. If we can’t laugh at it all, I guess we’d cry.
It was another afternoon in which we allowed our midfield to be dominated by an opposing player. Phillips controlled the game for Leeds, Fleck for Sheff Utd, Bryson did so for Cardiff and Luke Freeman was the best player on the park yesterday. The central area of Cattermole and Ndong is certainly something that Simon Grayson needs to address and fast. Every side we play against appears to possess and extra player, and that is a massive problem. He can’t continue to pair those two together and expect a positive outcome. Cattermole has been poor and Ndong looks to be regressing after some positive displays in the top flight last season. It is one challenging conundrum for the manager to solve.
Our midfield has been overran in each and every game they’ve played at home this season, and quite frankly, we are far too easy to play against. McGeady’s bit of magic dragged us out of the mire for the second game running; as he and Jonny Williams continue to look like the only creative forces in our squad at the moment.
If you’re the type of person who is looking for positives, then you won’t find many here I’m afraid.
This is a time for realism and honesty.
It isn’t too early to look at the league table. It isn’t too early to say we’re fighting to beat the drop. By the end of this month we’ll be a third of the way through the campaign and the maximum tally Sunderlad can amass from fifteen games is seventeen points. That in itself is relegation form.
We go to Brentford on Saturday more so in hope than expectation, and following that come crucial home games against high-flying Bristol City and struggling Bolton. When we head into the month of November, we will have truly learned what this squad of players are made of. Sadly, I have a feeling that we already know the answer.