After a shambolic afternoon at home to ‘The Blades’ on Saturday, where exactly is the best place to start? Today, as harrowing as it is, the beginning will have to do. On paper, Simon Grayson's team selection looked a lot more positive than in previous games. Apart from seeing what I originally thought would be a back four made up entirely of centre-backs, I also saw the names of Williams, Grabban and Vaughan included in our starting XI. I thought it looked attack-minded, and at least that was something to cheer.
In reality though, how the side shaped up was a million miles away from what I was expecting when meandering over to the Stadium of Light in the afternon sunshine. Ty Browning at right-back? Wing-backs? Three centre-backs? Even now, I'm still not sure of what I was watching. For the entirety of the ninety minutes, our players looked like they'd been thrown together that very morning.
There was no cohesion, no fluidity, no real identity or pattern of play, and with the exception of Jonny Williams, no-one willing to take any real responsibility with the ball. Williams was positive: he managed to spin away from his marker numerous times in the first half, finding himself in pockets of space in which to operate and create. There was never anything in front of him, nothing in the way of overlapping runners, and certainly no-one able to hold up the play after being fed the ball to feet. Once the influence of Williams waned, Sheffield United were able to gain control of the game. Sunderland looked all at sea; producing a display that for me, has set alarms bells soundly ringing. Unorganised at the back, pedestrian in midfield and toothless up top. We badly missed the ingenuity of McGeady and the leadership and drive of Lee Cattermole. The sooner they return, the better because we will be heavily reliant on the pair of them this season.
I'm not going to sit here and pick apart every single player for their performance, but some players need mentioning. Brendan Galloway had another shaky afternoon, and is quickly becoming something of a scapegoat. As is James Vaughan, who was hooked again before the hour mark for the third or fourth time this season. Lewis Grabban simply did not want to know on Saturday, yet Vaughan gets the brunt of the stick. I'm sorry, but if you're going to dig Vaughan out, you must do likewise with Grabban. I realise he's got us some goals this season, but he was as disinterested as they come in that second half. I get the feeling the man on loan from Bournemouth believes he is a better player than he actually is.
The league season is only six games old, but already there is massive cause for concern. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply kidding themselves, especially if they were inside the Stadium of Light to witness another woeful performance. We sit twentieth in the table. Twentieth. Relegation is not improbable. Some will call me mad for saying that, some will call me realistic. It has happened to some big clubs in the past and can happen again. I can only go by what I've seen every Saturday afternoon so far, and it is not pretty. Forget promotion and play-offs - you need around fifty points just to stay in this league. Blackburn went down to League One last season with fifty-one. The quicker we manage to amass that amount, the better I'll feel.
I read a statistic yesterday that read we've mustered eighteen wins at home in the past seventy-eight matches. Make that eighteen from seventy-nine now; which is incredible. We haven't won at home since beating Watford in December, and those from outside the area continue to wonder why we vote with our feet. How much more can any of us take?
There was bickering and fighting in the stands, and the toxic chanting of "You're not fit to wear the shirt" boomed round the stadium after Clayton Donaldson had effectively won the game for Sheffield United. It wasn't aimed at any individual, this was a collective humiliation for Sunderland's players by their own supporters. They heard it, make no mistake about it. While Donaldson lay injured, there was nowhere for the players to hide. They will have ached for the ground to open up and swallow them. Welcome to SAFC messrs Williams, Wilson and McManaman. It will be an eventful season once again.
So where do we go from here? Only something like a fortnight ago I was calling for positivity, yet we've been battered at Barnsley and now turned in a performance that according to the bloke sitting near me "wouldn't have been out of place in the McMenemy era." Dark words indeed. I even feel sizeable resentment towards Jack Rodwell for scoring. How dare he? His goal bonus will cost the club an absolute fortune, and we all know we haven't got a pot to piss in.
With Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, Simon Grayson again has some big calls to make. Surely he'll abandon the shape of the the side and revert to a back four? Will he change personnel? Callum McManaman must surely come into contention, as does Lynden Gooch. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jason Steele make a return either. Or does Grayson allow the same players to atone for their failings against Sheffield United? It will be intriguing to see.
As obvious as it sounds, we simply have to start picking up points. It doesn't have to be pretty on Tuesday, it just has to be better. It can't get much worse, but each and every one of us has said that before. It almost feels like we have to win against Forest. I cannot comprehend the repercussions if we don't. Whatever the manager decides, he's got to find a winning formula, and fast.