Sunderland managed to kill off all optimism surrounding this season's relegation battle in that dreadful defeat against Southampton on Saturday. The fact that Hull, Leicester and Crystal Palace also lost is scant consolation considering the opportunity that their own losses would have presented to gain some much needed initiative.
But more than that, the four goal thrashing was a huge psychological blow and strained relations between the fans and the players and the manager. In the first twenty minutes there had even been a chorus or two of "David Moyes red-and-white-army", but by full-time the stands were empty as supporters turned their backs on the Sunderland side they had paid to watch and the players gave up. No professional group of footballers should concede goals like Southampton's final two - no matter the circumstances.
In a way, Sunderland will avoid the post-mortem they deserve. The squad will jet off to New York later for a four day 'mini-break'. It's probably no bad thing that they are able to escape town as anger slowly dissipates. There is no home game now until next month when Manchester City are the visitors during early March. By then, every game will be a desperate 'must-win' - but then we've been here before.
In the wake of defeat, certain personnel from the squad have attempted to provide an explanation of how they got it so badly wrong and how the side that beat Crystal Palace so comfortably managed to get themselves tonked seven days later. Here's the best of ‘Excuse Monday'.
1. It was the weight of expectation - David Moyes (Shields Gazette)
When you’re off the back of a 4-0 win and folk are saying that Southampton haven’t done that well, that’s the sort of game, at the moment, when we don’t seem to be able to do it in. I’m more a little bit worried that when the expectation comes on, ‘you know, this is your game to win’. We’ve not been able to live up to that.
Certainly Moyes and his men have had several chances in recent weeks to exit the bottom three and failed to do so. But, the squad has to grasp the proverbial nettle sooner rather than later with just fourteen games remaining. No one can ever accuse Sunderland supporters of expecting too much either.
2. We dropped too deep - Darron Gibson (Shields Gazette)
First 25 minutes, we were on top, and then obviously they scored and it changed the game really. It put us on the back foot a bit and I think we dropped too deep.
Sunderland are a side who rarely - if ever - enjoy a lion's share of possession, but even getting thumped by four goals, David Moyes men still managed 46% of the ball and managed a reasonable number of passes compared with their opponents. The problem was the way in which the football became the hot potato that no one in red-and-white wanted and how professional players suddenly stopped putting a foot in, tracking back and committing to their duties.
3. It was a handball which changed the course of the game - David Moyes (ESPN)
The boy puts it in with his arm. It doesn't touch anybody's head, it doesn't do anything like that, it just goes straight in off his arm. It's a great cross in, I must say, by Bertrand and it's difficult for the referee maybe to see it.
But it goes in off his arm, not any other part of his body, so that shouldn't have been given and it really changes the way it goes.
Technically Manolo Gabbiadini's first goal was probably a hand-ball. But only video technology with an eagle-eyed operator would have spotted it. It took several replays for the rest of the world to conclude that the ball had come off the Italian's elbow, never mind a referee and his assistant tracking behind the play.
None of that explains the collapse which follows, particularly conceding - again - just before half-time to kill off any lingering hope both on the pitch and in the stands.
4. We don't have Lee Cattermole, even if he is injured - Steven Pienaar (The Chronicle)
You have players like Catts who is always talking even though he’s not involved
Every day you have to put everything in on the training ground to make sure you’re ready for Saturday.
No comment needed. But was it complacency, here's a hint:
I think it was the best start since I’ve been at the club, For the first 20 minutes I was sitting on the bench thinking, ‘Wow, if we can get the first goal it might be an easy afternoon.’
5. Chasing the game made it worse - David Moyes (Sunderland Echo)
The more we tried to get a goal back, or do something else, there was more chance we were going to lose more goals.
But every time we put on a more attacking player, it got worse, so for us trying to win the game or do something, it didn't necessarily make us any better.
Perhaps it was a dig at Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini who at best offered nothing once they were introduced onto the field of play in the second half.
But, Moyes' idea of chasing the game and refreshing the side at half time was woefully ineffective. If you’re desperate to claw back a two-goal deficit, bringing on the ageing knackered legs of a 34-year-old Steven Pienaar is not going to do it.
What is up with Wahbi Khazri now then?
But, while we're at it, this photo of Wahbi Khazri is sure unflattering and perhaps hints at an ongoing issue. Sunderland's Tunisian midfielder had just thirteen touches of the ball during his twelve-minute spell on Saturday. But, he managed to get himself booked for handball and failed to track his man for Southampton's third goal.
Obviously we can't blame him for Saturday's defeat at all and the man from last season sure deserves a run in the side. But saying that, the onus is now firmly on the player who excelled at the African Cup of Nations to prove he is worth a shot in the Premier League beyond a mere brief cameo each week; particularly as no move and barely any interest presented itself in the January transfer window for him.
Someone order an extra lap of Central Park for Mr Khazri. Perhaps it's just a bad photo.