When the whistle blew at full time on Saturday, things felt about as bleak as it can get. Less than 8,000 fans bothered to file through the turnstiles as we put in a lethargic and frankly concerning performance against League One opposition. Can anyone blame people for their lack of interest in the game? I’d hope not.
Things are drab. The ‘new manager bounce’ which most clubs get never arrived and suddenly we have two wins from seven from the first month and a bit of the Phil Parkinson era. Rather than improving, a desire for which is usually why a manager is disposed of, results and performances have seemingly gone backwards.
Since Parkinson arrived, what evidence has there been that suggests it was worth sacking Jack Ross? Since the previous manager’s last game in charge at Lincoln City, we’ve not seen any dramatic improvement in terms of performances. We did alright down at Shrewsbury, but again we failed to break down a mid-table side. It’s not the form which gets a team promoted - though, to be honest, the way we’ve performed in recent weeks suggests that the play-offs could even be out of reach. At least under Ross we won a few games without playing great. It’s bleak, but that’s where we are.
The poor turnout, flat performance and woeful goalkeeping mistake against Gillingham seemed to epitomise our club at the moment. We continue to haemorrhage points in a division which everyone thought we would blitz - we’ve ticked over into the second quarter of the campaign still apparently riding on the downward slump carried on from last season.
The worst part of Sunderland’s start this season is the polar opposite to the last. We had so much more drive about us last season, picking up points regularly and convincingly.
Let’s not forget also the demise of Jon McLaughlin. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but his mistakes this season have been increasingly worse; the free-kick fumbling on Saturday is just the exciting conclusion of his part in our downfall. Lee Burge’s return from injury can’t come soon enough.
A lasting image from the forgettable 1-1 draw will be our keeper, already void of confidence, chasing the ball a dozen or so rows back into an empty Roker End to fetch it - a sight which truly hit home how far Sunderland have fallen in the last three years.
It’s sickening but the only way to end it, i.e. promotion out of the third tier, feels right now like something which we just aren’t capable of. We knew it would be harder this year with Ipswich coming down and sides like Coventry and Peterborough finding form - what happens if we need to compete with one of those teams plus Stoke and Middlesbrough?
A third season in League One doesn’t bear thinking about, but it is a very real and sobering possibility at this moment in time.
What can be done, I hear you ask? Well we tried getting a new manager in and thus far, things have not improved. It has been proven with performances that we have not progressed on last season and honestly, we only find ourselves on the cusp of the play-offs because fortunately our fixtures have included some of the worst teams in the division. With Coventry and Blackpool coming up in the next few weeks, our standards desperately need to improve.
The club is in a terrible state at the minute. Three defeats in the last five league matches is not the worst run of form, but for a team urgently in need of promotion it is a run which could seal our fate come May.