If Brentford was supposed to be the turning point, a defeat to Bolton surely means that Sunderland now hold little hope. It wasn’t a terrible performance but it wasn’t good enough and if that’s how they’re playing against fellow strugglers, what hope do they have?
All night, Sunderland spurned chances and they gifted the opposition a goal to win the game. The stuff you would expect from a relegation side.
Going back to the formation which has yielded Sunderland the majority of their clean sheets, Chris Coleman made three changes to the side that lost to Brentford.
Bryan Oviedo, who was left out on Saturday due to tactical reasons, was reinstated at left back, Lamine Kone slotted in at centre half, while Paddy McNair made his first start since New Year’s Day.
To say the game started slowly would be an understatement - it took thirteen minutes for the first corner and seventeen minutes for the first shot on target.
In typical Sunderland fashion, Bolton scored with the aforementioned first shot on target - a free kick was whipped in from the left and Zach Clough was able to get the vital touch to give the home side the lead. It was a decent delivery but Sunderland’s questionable defending and Lee Camp’s poor decision making made it all too easy for Wanderers.
To give Sunderland a semblence of credit though, they reacted relatively well to going a goal down.
Paddy McNair had a couple of efforts from range, one of which resulted in he Lads’ first shot on target after twenty five minutes. Not long after, Ashley Fletcher was given a golden opportunity to equalise when a ball over the top put him through one on one with Ben Alnwick. Poor control and an even worse shot spurned the chance however, and all Sunderland got was a corner.
The opening forty five minutes were largely spent in Bolton’s half. The Trotters gave Sunderland another go at grabbing an equaliser but a goalmouth scramble after a corner just couldn’t be put away.
The beginning of the second period seemed to suggest Chris Coleman’s boys in blue would pick up from where they left off. Billy Jones flashed in a teasing ball from the left, which was begging to be stabbed in, and Sunderland dominated possession.
Bolton did regain some control around the hour mark though and managed to settle the game down somewhat. This prompted Coleman to alter his system and introduce Aiden McGeady for Billy Jones, which moved Lamine Kone to right back and shifted Sunderland into a 4-3-3. McGeady was instantly involved, firing an edge of the box free kick right into the wall after Joel Asoro was fouled.
It wouldn’t give the visitors an instant route into taking charge unfortunately. Bolton slowed the game down quite well to their credit and a Sammy Ameobi drive from outside the penalty area almost doubled their advantage.
It kept going the wrong way for Sunderland as well. Substitute Adam Le Fondre found himself unmarked in the box but Lee Camp produced a fine save low down to his right. Seconds later and The Lads still were leaving men in space as Karacan rattled the crossbar.
The Black Cats kept pushing as the game wore on but Alnwick went reletively untested. It wasn’t until substitute Calum McManaman forced him into palming a shot over the bar that the Bolton ‘keeper looked worried.
McManaman’s effort would be Sunderland’s last of the night and possibly their last hope of redeeming their season. As far as must win games go, this one was up there and a lack of guile cost Sunderland dearly.
It feels like League One is inevitable.
Lee Camp, 3/10: His huge error for the opening goal was tragic. Not even a fantastic second half save could redeem him.
Billy Jones, 5/10: Got forward well and didn’t really have a lot to do defensively as Bolton rarely threatened during his time on the pitch.
Jake Clarke-Salter, 4/10: Made some good challenges but wasn’t made to do a lot. Still doesn’t look that dependable.
John O’Shea, 5/10: Like his defensive colleagues, didn’t get put under a great deal of pressure but it’s telling that Bolton threatened on almost every occasion they broke forward in the second half.
Lamine Kone, 6/10: Tried to carry the ball forward when in possession and was our most assured looking defender on the night.
Bryan Oviedo, 4/10: Struggled to get involved in an attacking sense and didn’t provide the threat we can usually depend on him for.
Lee Cattermole, 5/10: Like the overall performance, not terrible but not good enough. Barely noticed him to be honest.
George Honeyman, 4/10: Worked hard and got into good positions but lacked cutting edge when we needed it.
Paddy McNair, 6/10: An energetic return and he looked to drive the team on. Hopefully he can stay fit for the rest of the season.
Joel Asoro, 5/10: A quiet game compared to his recent outings. Struggled to get into it despite some graft.
Ashley Fletcher, 2/10: Wasted chances for fun all night. Thank god he can’t play on Saturday.
Aiden McGeady, 5/10: His presence always makes you think that something might happen but it didn’t click for him tonight. I still wouldn’t be against starting him on Saturday.
Josh Maja, 5/10: Not a great amount of time to make an impact but his touch was off and he failed to add anything to our attack.
Callum McManaman, 4/10: Should have scored right at the end. Can’t say much more than that, didn’t do a lot after being introduced.
Man of the Match: Paddy McNair.