Staring down at the trap door to League One, Sunderland - as a football team, a club and a fan-base - are struggling to comprehend just how it got this bad.
Rightly so, most have pointed fingers at the higher echelons of the club, others have pointed to the recruitment “policy” and some a succession of terrible managers. In truth, there’s a multitude of reasons why Sunderland sit below rock bottom in the English second tier, with the gap to the promised land of 21st position widening with each depressing defeat.
Looking at this season alone it’s evident one area Chris Coleman’s men have struggled horrendously since the turn of the year has been in ability to stick the ball into the back of the net - the statistics are actually quite horrifying. We’ve scored only nine goals in twelve matches since the departure of - and still - our top goalscorer Lewis Grabban. That’s far less than a goal a game - whereas two from that terrifying tally are own goals. Gulp.
Lewis Grabban’s time at Sunderland was, at least on paper, a huge success. Hitting the net every 130 minutes meant he could be relied on for a goal almost every other game, his nearest competitor being the consistently dropped Aiden McGeady - who comes in at a goal every 3.5 games. Since Grabban’s departure, we simply don’t have anyone in our ranks capable of scoring us to safety and it’s hurting us badly.
When Chris Coleman said “why should I go down on my hands and knees to convince anybody to be with us?” the majority of the Wearside nodded in agreement - after all, the on loan striker’s lazy-looking demeanour meant he had a good amount of detractors who felt he wasn’t putting in the effort required.
Grabban of course denied the claim he asked to leave when asked if he pushed for the loan to be cancelled. The truth was probably somewhere in the middle.
Whichever way you look at it Lewis Grabban is a goal machine at this level and Sunderland lost a valuable weapon in their fight to stay in the league.
Whilst we all point to the defensive frailties - and they are evident - even if Coleman’s managed to somehow stop us leaking goals, how exactly are we going win games with a impotent strike force that shows next to zero goal threat week on week?
Josh Maja, despite his goal-scoring debut, has looked a little out of his depth and has been unable to add to his solitary strike against Fulham. It would be unfair to write off the youngster at this stage, but in the same vein, it has been supremely unfair to expect him to carry the burden Lewis Grabban did. Joel Asoro has fared a little better, but again - you can’t put that sort of pressure on an 18-year-old, no matter how good they are.
Links to the more experienced Jon Walters and Chris Martin eventually fell by the wayside in January as we eventually settled on the highly rated Ashley Fletcher from our neighbours Middlesbrough on a six-month loan deal.
The ‘Boro front man has been a huge disappointment though, looking as disinterested as Lewis Grabban supposedly ever did. He’s yet to score, missing a host of glorious chances namely at Bristol City and Bolton. In short, his transfer has been a huge let down for Chris Coleman’s side as it becomes apparent that failure to attract a real goalscorer to replace 30-year-old Grabban is likely to result in relegation to the third tier for only the second time in Sunderland’s history.
With just eight games left till our second successive relegation is almost certainly rubber stamped.
The ease in which Lewis Grabban was allowed to leave by the club may come back to bite us all directly on the backside as we slide into League One without a whimper, whilst he battles for promotion with Aston Villa.
With full knowledge that Ellis Short wouldn’t be providing any cash injection to attract a proven Championship centre forward, the failure of both Martin Bain and Chris Coleman to convince a player who will end the season as our top goalscorer to stay has to be considered a massive failing of them both - a failing that will almost certainly sees us begin next season as a League One outfit.