What started off as a season of aspiration, with everybody focusing on the end goal of escaping this wretched league, is quickly turning into a campaign of low ebbs and miserable failures.
One minuscule step forward, followed by another colossal leap backwards.
False dawns? Step this way, because Sunderland are dealing exclusively in them right now.
After the impressive 3-0 away victory over AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, featuring, of all things, a Charlie Wyke hat-trick, we entered the first of four crucial games, from which ten points had to be the minimum target, as Plymouth rolled up to a rain-lashed SOL.
This game was a case study in all the negatives that playing in the third tier involves.
A neglected, rutted, quagmire of a pitch? Check.
Another witless League One official? Check.
A club stream that was, yet again, hopelessly unreliable? There was that, too.
The joys of third-tier football, brought to you in glorious, laggy Technicolour.
Even putting the external factors to one side, this was a game that we simply had to win.
It was the kind of night that called for some fortitude, and for some no-nonsense attitude.
We needed to try and put Plymouth away, collect the points, and start to build a winning run.
Quite simply, it was a non-negotiable.
Sadly, we didn’t.
Sunderland’s performance was largely stodgy and frustratingly disjointed. The conditions didn’t help, but, once again, the midfield was sorely lacking in guile, and in an attacking sense only Jack Diamond really stood out as he endeavoured to carve out openings and at least try to give us some spark.
Collectively, there was also a lack of urgency, which you couldn’t overlook. The body language of the players never looked right. It was all too languid and lacking in bite.
Both of Plymouth’s goals were gifted to them as a result of woeful Sunderland defending. F
or both goals, a criminal amount of space was gifted to the opposition in and around our goalmouth, allowing Adam Lewis (11’) and then Joe Edwards (56’) to score, the latter with a neat curling finish.
What made Plymouth’s second goal even more galling was the fact that, minutes earlier, we’d restored parity with a very smart header from Aiden O’Brien.
In true Sunderland style, however, we weren’t able to use that as a springboard.
It was the usual story: equalise, switch off, concede.
We’ve all seen this movie before, but it still has the ability to make your blood boil.
Far too many of Sunderland’s players were woefully off-form on Tuesday night.
Charlie Wyke reverted back to his usual ineffective self, Josh Scowen was completely out of kilter, and even Carl Winchester, who’d shown flashes of promise against Wimbledon, made a fairly inauspicious home debut. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t exactly eye-catching either.
And therein lies the problem.
This is not a squad of top-quality players turned into automatons by Phil Parkinson.
This is a squad of largely average players who rarely shine, and only occasionally put their absolute best game on the pitch.
Without a doubt, the absence of the likes of Denver Hume and Luke O’Nien has hindered us badly, and the sight of Jordan Willis limping off was another major worry.
A special mention must also be reserved for Aiden McGeady, who, after enduring a somewhat disappointing evening, shot an absolutely venomous glance towards Lee Johnson as he trudged off the pitch. What was that about? Was this the reemergence of the allegedly disruptive McGeady who Parkinson refused to select?
Frankly, he had little to grumble about. It’s one of footballs oldest truisms: play poorly, expect to get subbed, and accept it. Given everything we face right now, the last thing we need is dissent in the ranks.
And so to the manager. Forgive me for being blunt here, but this is no time for Lee Johnson’s admittedly entertaining managerial talk. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d much rather hear some Mick McCarthy-style honesty. At least that might spark some kind of a reaction from his players. The man deserves time to fully implement his vision, but like any manager, his worth is measured in results.
I do believe that Johnson understands the expectations, but it is incredibly difficult to remain patient when you see the team play like they did last night. It is a balancing act, but I still believe that he can turn this ship around, given the right backing.
Thirteen points from a possible 33 at home this season tells its own grim tale.
Forget the ‘toxic fans’ argument: Sunderland are simply not capable, for whatever reason, of sending opposition teams away from Wearside empty handed – and until we can rectify that, any promotion ambitions can be forgotten about.
At this moment, it is difficult to see any other outcome than our season drifting towards a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion.