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Are Sunderland starting to fall behind their promotion rivals?

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“Sunderland have slipped out of the play-off places in League One, and recent performances suggest we are not able to keep up with our promotion rivals” argues Paddy Hollis.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

It was a cold Tuesday evening in October. Sunderland had just played out a lacklustre 2-2 draw away to Rochdale. The result meant that we dropped out of the playoff places and, with results elsewhere, six points behind second-placed Hull City.

As the post-match review pieces started to fill up social media, one thought crossed my mind; how the f**k are we ever going to get out of this league?

The front runners in the division have raced out of the blocks. Lincoln City, Hull, Ipswich and Portsmouth have all made strong starts to the season. Sunderland were in this category, but the last two results have highlighted some of the glaring weaknesses throughout the team. We made a poor Portsmouth team look like world-beaters and then followed it up with a woeful defensive display at Rochdale.

On the same night as the draw at Spotland, Lincoln City ground out a win at Crewe, Ipswich manoeuvred past Gillingham and Hull came from behind to comfortably see off Bristol Rovers; a team which Sunderland failed to defeat on the opening day of the season. The teams above us are winning ugly, something which Sunderland have stopped doing in the last couple of games.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Visionhaus

We are failing to dominate teams in this league, proving that we do not have the clout which many believe we should. Our rivals are. They also have managers who are willing to take a risk and have a plan B, which is vital at any level.

Take Grant McCann at Hull City, for example. With less than half an hour to go on Tuesday night, Hull were trailing 1-0. Instead of hoping for the best, McCann made his three substitutions within five minutes. At full time, the three subs had each scored and the Tigers ran out 3-1 winners. Can we honestly imagine Parky making these kinds of risks midway through the second half? I doubt it.

There have been some truly terrible individual performances so far this season, and the Rochdale draw was no exception. The centre midfield pair of George Dobson and Max Power are playing as if they don’t know each other and, although the stats show his pass success rate against Rochdale was actually over 86%, it feels as though 80% of Dobson’s crucial passes go astray.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
There are lies, damned lies and George Dobson’s passing statistics against Rochdale
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

To have two midfielders in such poor form together is not ideal, but when the manager doesn’t make the changes until late in the second half and when he does, leaves on arguably the two worst players in the side. It makes you wonder what the hell the likes of Dan Neil, Benji Kimpioka and Jack Diamond need to do to earn a place even on the bench.

Sunderland have made a faltered start to the season, and the fans are noticing this. In a poll run by Roker Report, fans were asked to say where they believe Sunderland will finish judging off the first eight league matches. over 2,700 voted and 91% of you thought Sunderland would finish either in the playoffs or mid-table, with just 5% being brave enough to see us mounting a charge for the top two.

The fans can see that we are not good enough to go straight up, so why can’t the management team?

The games are coming thick and fast, with a clash against Ipswich Town looming on the horizon. For six games, we could pride ourselves on a solid defensive line, but five goals conceded across match-days seven and eight have thrown this positive start out of the window.

If we continue to play like this then even a place in the playoffs looks out of reach and under the current leadership, I just can’t see us improving enough under Phil Parkinson to get out of League One.