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Either step up or step aside; Sunderland’s senior pros are shirking responsibility on the pitch

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New manager, old problems. For Chris Coleman to stand a chance of putting things right at Sunderland, he needs to be able to rely upon his most senior players - and only they can do anything about it.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

The Simon Grayson era at Sunderland may now have long since passed, but Saturday’s dismal defeat to Reading showed new boss Chris Coleman that the same old problems that his predecessor experienced in his short tenure at the club remain.

Indeed, last week’s 2-0 win over Burton Albion certainly lifted the doom for a short while, but within a week the eleven men he trusted to take to the field and return with a first home win in a year let him - and the supporters - down yet again by recording a twenty-first home game in a row without a win.

David Preece nailed the playing style of John O’Shea on Saturday. He tweeted this seconds before he gave the ball straight to a Reading player under zero pressure.

The more that the season has dragged on - and the bones of each demoralising defeat have been picked apart - the more the performances of the more experienced members of our squad have ticked me off.

The likes of Lee Cattermole, Aiden McGeady and John O’Shea are not stepping up and leading by example.

Is wanting our players - particularly the ones that have been around the block a bit and should know better than most about how to deal with pressure - to leave every drop of sweat out on the pitch too much to ask for?

I never thought that I’d level that criticism at Lee Cattermole but throughout this season he has been shocking, and I’m not even sure that he’s got the hunger or desire any more to play top-level football.

A quick glance at Cattermole’s statistics from Saturday’s game tells its own story - he only won 20% of his duels, made no blocks and made no interceptions. The needless foul that he made which earned him a yellow card on Saturday was ridiculous, particularly for a senior player who really should know better.

On paper, Aiden McGeady’s goal return so far this season has been excellent for a winger playing in a side that has struggled as much as ours has, but his performances since Simon Grayson left have been below par, even by our standards.

The Glasgow-born Irishman is not an inexperienced boy either - he’s played in the Champions League for the likes of Celtic and has over ninety caps for his country. He’s sulking and it’s evident.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
As limited as Honeyman is, his work ethic is welcomed. The likes of Asoro and Gooch deserve the chance he’s had for the same reasons.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Compare him to the limited yet workmanlike George Honeyman, a player with not even half of the talent that McGeady possesses. His passing rate during Saturday’s game was at 86%, he put in five more crosses than McGeady and made more interceptions and successful challenges than both Cattermole and McGeady put together.

Now ask yourself - is it a lack of talent, or a lack of hunger?

The senior pros are the ones letting us down, and they have been all season. It’s just not good enough. Cattermole, Ruiter, O’Shea, Kone - the list of experienced pros currently at the club - Bryan Oviedo aside - that play like they’ve given up on this club seems endless.

When it’s left to youngsters like Joel Asoro to come on and show the type of character and attitude needed to get us out of this mess, you know that you have problems.

It boggles my mind why Lynden Gooch isn’t afforded more opportunities too.

When you are in our situation, it’s not really about the quality of player anymore - it’s about the application and work ethic they show when given opportunities. It’s about wanting the ball, wanting to get the fans of their feet and show them what you’re made of - just like Joel Asoro did on Saturday. George Honeyman, as limited and inconsistent as he is - has done that all season too.

I trust Chris Coleman to eventually get things right at Sunderland, and I am 100% behind him, but he has to learn quickly about which players genuinely want to be here and drag us out of this mess.

This isn’t a call to ‘throw the kids in’. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to a bad performance - it’s merely an observation of something that I have continually witnessed over the last season or two from a squad of players that don’t treat playing for this club with the kind of respect it deserves.

We lack energy, guile and, above all else, heart.

It’s time for some of Sunderland’s players to either step up, or step out.

We - this club, this fanbase and this manager - don’t need shirkers representing us. If you truly want to be here, you need to prove it very quickly or this slope we’re headed down will become a hell of a lot more slippy.