It says everything about the way most Sunderland fans are feeling that today that almost no one can be bothered to mention Seb Larsson’s controversial red card.
Larsson, who left the field to the sight of a banner bearing his name by a group of Swedes, was dismissed for a red which (at the very worst) warranted a caution. Being 1-0 down by this point meant most home supporters were already accepting another a defeat but going down to 10 men killed any glimmers of hope for even the most positive of fans. Just seconds into the second half, Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled Manchester United’s advantage and that was that.
To get so annoyed by the referee’s mistake would be ignoring the real issues, though. The defeat to Manchester United was Sunderland’s latest easy surrender, as they were simply brushed aside by Zlatan and co.
Lining up in a narrow 4-4-2, it was difficult to see where Sunderland’s attacking threat would come from. The lack of pace in the side continued to be an issue, especially when players such as Didier Ndong were making tackles and intercepting the ball. There were some decent challenges from Sunderland, that should have been the start of them getting forward quickly, but they were simply ponderous with the ball at their feet.
In fairness, Ndong is hardly a slouch but he’s not exactly the type of player to penetrate the heart of a defence, so it’s not wonder that The Lads looked so unthreatening on the counter. Every time the opportunity to break presented itself, the players simply looked clueless.
A start for Wahbi Khazri would have injected both pace and creativity. He could have been used through the middle, if the insistence was on playing narrow or he could have been utilised out wide, to give The Black Cats an alternative approach. After Larsson was sent for an early bath, there wasn’t a recognised set piece taker on the field and a corner/free kick would have been Sunderland’s best way back into the game. A perfect time give Khazri a run out, in a risk free period, given that the game was already gone. We know Khazri will never ever start another game under David Moyes though, so it’s pointless even getting into that debate. Let’s just bring on Fabio Borini and not even bother with the final substitution.
Pre-sending off, I’m not sure what the game plan from Sunderland actually was. They had Victor Anichebe returning up front and while he was quite poor, there didn’t seem to be any particular idea of how to utilise him. Such a lack of width meant that getting the ball to the wings and attempting crosses would be difficult but there was no guile through the middle either. A throw in gave Billy Jones the chance to cross to Anichebe, who did well to turn and poke the ball towards goal, but that was as mobile as the former Everton man got and the last time Sunderland even tried to use his physicality to their advantage.
There were a few tidy passes sprayed about from Lee Cattermole but that’s where the ideas seemed to stop. It was Sunderland at their 'lets just hope Jermain Defoe does something' worst.
It’s crazy to think that this is the same club that, just over 12 months ago, battled their way to victory over Manchester United, with players like Khazri playing out of their skin. You only have to look at Lamine Kone’s performances in each game, as the perfect embodiment of the decline. Kone had the look of a year 9 pupil sitting in a Geography lesson, not taking in a single thing, as he knows that he wont be studying this subject, when his GCSE’s come around next year. With this kind of performance though, where he barely tackled, intercepted or blocked, it will be tough to see the likes of Everton tabling such high bids come the summer.
The other half of the defensive duo, Jason Denayer, did emerge from the game with something resembling credit however. It was a difficult game for Denayer but he made more interceptions than anyone else on the field (5), showing his good reading of the game and his ability to spot danger, rather than just react to it. It’s frustrating to see such talent, when you know that Denayer will either trying and break into the Manchester City side or find another suitor elsewhere, come the end of the campaign. At least he’s still showing some desire though, no matter how bleak things look for the club he is currently on loan to. It may be for personal gain but I wish some of Denayer's team mates, who themselves will want to be in the shop window in July, would show why they still deserve to play at a high level.
They’re certainly not helped by a manager who doesn’t know how to set his team up, despite being at the club for almost a year, but if you could at least see the players making their best of it, you might feel a degree of sympathy for them. At the moment though, I’m beginning to feel just as disgusted with them as I am with the management.