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Where are the Sunderland players and Phil Parkinson going wrong?

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Sunderland stumbled out of Bristol as beaten men as the wheels continue to rattle off Phil Parkinson’s fun bus - where do you think the gaffer and the team are going wrong as the horizon of a crucial season lurches into view?

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West says...

As I write, I’m still trying to digest the absolute shambles that unfolded tonight, but if I can try to be rational and logical in the midst of my anger at another game that we’ve failed to perform in, I’ll try to nail down the issues that are threatening to scupper another promotion bid. This was a truly dismal performance, one of our worst for a long time, and the defeat was deserved.

Fundamentally, I think it boils down to the fact that many of our players are out of form and clearly running on empty, having played so many games in succession, combined with a lack of resilience when it comes to the crunch games, and Phil Parkinson’s worrying lack of a Plan B, when our regular tactics don’t have the desired effect. You also can’t escape the fact that we simply don’t have a forward line that will score the requisite amount of goals, a deep-seated and long-term issue that hasn’t been resolved.

As Gillingham on Saturday proved, we do have a tendency to switch off at key moments, and this is hindering us tremendously. Successful promotion teams are ruthless, relentless, and efficient. We are not, and certainly not on a regular enough basis. You always get the sense that there’s an individual error somewhere in the team, one which is liable to cost us big time.

We have a decent squad. Not a world-beating squad, but a decent one nonetheless, and these players should be, in my opinion, capable of sustaining a promotion push. We went from fifteenth to the fringes of the automatic promotion picture, and have stumbled against fellow promotion rivals in recent weeks. Parkinson can’t escape the blame, and the players should be feeling thoroughly ashamed. He needs to rediscover a winning formula, and the players need to recapture their January/February form, and quickly.

Bristol Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Paul Fletcher says...

There’s a fine line between consistency and predictability.

After guiding us to the ‘new low of all new lows’ on Boxing Day when relegation seemed a more likely proposition than promotion, Parkinson finally managed to find a formula that worked. The formation, the personnel, the game plan, the addition of Bailey Wright and the re-emergence of the good version of Lynden Gooch saw us take 30 points from a possible 39 points in the 13 games between 29th December and 25th February. That’s league winning form - so you can’t really blame the supporters for getting carried away.

Parkinson’s consistency in formation and selection played a huge part in this turnaround. The advantages being that players knew their roles in attack and in defence, partnerships were formed in key areas of the pitch and supporters could see the clear game plan many had been crying out for. Unfortunately, so could the opposition. I think it’s fair to say that other teams have worked us out.

The obvious disadvantage of the consistency in formation and selection was that, with minimal homework, it became easy for teams to prepare to play against us. They knew exactly what starting eleven they would be up against, they knew exactly how we would try to play, and they knew exactly what they needed to do to combat it. The Fleetwood manager was probably the first to successfully do this and others have followed suit.

My main concern now is that, after it took Parkinson so long to perfect his current system, will he be able to successfully modify it quickly enough to see us go on another winning run? His track record says he’s capable of turning things round but I just can’t see how this is going to happen in the immediate fashion our current predicament requires.

His key players seem physically and mentally gone. All the chances Parkinson had to bed in his fringe players by giving them time on the pitch in low pressure situations have gone. (3-0 up at half time against Rochdale and no substitutions made until the 72nd minute, for example). After four games without a win, all the momentum we had built has gone.

The only thing that remains is hope. With the exception of Coventry (who have pulled well clear) and Oxford (who have merely caught up to us) all the surrounding teams have been dropping points too.