As we emerged from what was, by common consent, a crucial double-header of league matches, we are now being forced to survey the ruins of what were two great opportunities to take the points and haul ourselves up the table.
So much for ‘must-wins’. The sum total of Saturday, and Tuesday night, amounted to a single point. It simply isn’t enough, and now the storm engulfing our club has just strengthened significantly.
This was, barring a reasonably promising fifteen minute spell immediately after half-time, a dismal, wretched, inept performance from Sunderland, against a Burton team who were industrious rather than spectacular, but did more than enough to justify their victory, and no doubt give Nigel Clough a sweet feeling of satisfaction.
Sunderland were disjointed, and seemed completely bereft of any real gameplan beyond pinging long, aimless balls forward and pointless sideways passes across the midfield. We created next to nothing over the course of the entire ninety minutes.
Having taken the lead through a ludicrously fortuitous penalty - awarded after a majestic tumble taken by Luke O’Nien (I’ve always liked these League One referees) - we proceeded to allow Burton straight back into the game. We slackened off at the back, a shot went in, Burge parried it straight down the throat of Ryan Edwards, and in the blink of an eye, our lead evaporated.
Burton’s second goal was even more comical, as Liam Boyce had the simple task of tapping home from close range after we’d been left wide open down the left hand side. The comeback never materialised, and never even looked like it was a possibility.
If there was one lone positive to be gleaned from this otherwise atrocious evening, Duncan Watmore did show some positive intent, driving forward regularly and at least attempting to provide some ammunition for the isolated and much-maligned Will Grigg, who, for once, cannot shoulder the entire blame himself.
On a wider scale, there is a large worm eating away at the Sunderland apple. This group of players, with the honourable exception of the effervescent O’Nien, simply do not possess the qualities that a successful Sunderland player needs.
There is a chronic lack of mental strength that permeates through the entire team, and I did not see a single Sunderland player driving the standards on the pitch. There was far too much casual body language, and too little bite. That cannot be allowed to slide, because it is having a paralysing effect every time we step onto the pitch.
As to the managerial situation, Phil Parkinson is in mortal danger of becoming the spiritual successor to Simon Grayson. Nice man though I’m sure he is, he appears to be being completely overwhelmed by the scale of the task he has embarked upon. Is he being let down by his players? Yes, to a point. Are his messages and tactical outlook having a positive influence? You would have to say no.
As one of my RR colleagues said midway through the game, our football against Burton was akin to the kind of fare served up during the 1970s. It was both ugly and ineffective, a hideous combination if ever there was one.
I am always extremely cautious about January rebuilding jobs and the notion of dismantling and refitting teams mid-season, but in the case of Sunderland circa 2019/2020, that is the only way that we are going to stand a chance of making a last-ditch promotion push.
Assuming Parkinson remains in charge until the window swings open, he’s going to have to go full-on David Copperfield and procure several rabbits from his hat, hopefully in the form of players with pace, strength, goalscoring prowess, and above all, the fortitude that we sadly lack right now.
I don’t believe we have a team of wasters in the Jack Rodwell mould, but attitude, for a club in our position, is key, and too many of our current squad are currently phoning their performances in. It is completely unacceptable.
This club, despite its current issues, is certainly not ‘dead’, as many claimed on Twitter, post-match, but if someone is standing by with a defibrillator or some jump leads and a powerful battery, it could certainly use a shot of adrenaline, because as the cold, dark nights continue, the days are currently even darker for the club and its fans.