Sunderland lost 2-1 to Plymouth at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night, with Ryan Lowe’s side picking up their first away win of the season. The result moved The Pilgrims up to 11th, whilst the Black Cats dropped to ninth in the League One table.
The visitors took an early lead through Liverpool loanee Aaron Lewis, before Aiden O’Brien equalised with his first league goal for the club. However, just minutes after conceding, Plymouth hit back and secured the victory through Joe Edwards’ strike.
The result continued Sunderland’s dreadful home form and planted another nail in the club’s hopes of promotion.
Why are Sunderland performing so badly at the Stadium of Light?
The shocking state of the pitch at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night symbolised the state of Sunderland AFC.
A so called modern Premier League arena, it was in absolutely disgraceful condition, lacking any effort or care, it joined an endless list of things left to rot during the Stewart Donald era.
Losing to Plymouth reminded the fanbase of just how far the club has fallen, Sunderland lost just two League One homes games in the past two seasons, this season they have already lost four.
Those defeats have come against Portsmouth, MK Dons, Wigan and Plymouth, with last three possessing some of the worst away records in the division.
These results have safely put to bed the idea that a “toxic” 30,000 home crowd was having a negative impact on the players, they are performing worse in an empty stadium.
Overall, in 11 home games Sunderland have only picked up 13 points, generating a goal difference of minus two - it feels worse than nearly going a year without a home win in 2017, purely because of the league and quality of opposition.
The mentality at Sunderland presently is horrendous, and it feels from a supporters perspective that the ownership and staff behave as though Sunderland is a mundane League One club. That has to change under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Lee Johnson has help enforce that.
The club should not accept losing to at home to League Two sides like Mansfield, or against teams who can barely field 11 senior players like Wigan.
The question is, why are the team suffering embarrassing defeats at home whilst remaining unbeaten away?
How does Lee Johnson solve our problem at left-back?
Despite assisting O’Brien’s goal yesterday, Callum McFadzean did not paint himself in glory defensively for Plymouth’s two goals.
Having played at left-midfield or left wing-back for Ryan Lowe last season, Plymouth would have known he was a clear weak spot in the Sunderland back four, and it was typical that he would defend so poorly against his former side.
Sunderland are in a difficult predicament currently due to Denver Hume being set for an additional two months out injured, he is the club’s clear number one and streets ahead of McFadzean.
Consequently, Lee Johnson is now left with playing a player who was signed specifically to play as a wing-back, and who has made an array of criminal errors which have led to Sunderland conceding; Wimbledon at home for example.
The fact Elliot Embleton was subbed on to play left-back spoke volumes to me of how much the manager trusts McFadzean, it always embarrassing to be replaced by someone who does not even play in your position.
Dion Sanderson performed well as cover against Northampton so he is an option, plus Conor McLaughlin played there for consecutive games under Jack Ross.
Sunderland do not have a left-back in the under-21 squad, which is typical, as Robbie Dunne is more of a winger.
This leaves the potential option of recruiting someone, Sunderland have been linked with the likes of Scott Tanser (St Johnstone), Alex Cochrane (Brighton) and Paul Osew (Wimbledon), but no concrete offers have been submitted.
The issues with recruiting a new left-back are that they would know Hume is likely to return to the starting eleven, plus it would mean Sunderland had three players for one position, which is not cost effective.
Should Johnson stick with McFadzean, play Sanderson or McLaughlin on their uncomfortable side or sign a new left-back?
Should Sunderland be doing more in the transfer window?
As we reach 20 days into the January transfer window, Sunderland’s sole piece of incoming business has been Carl Winchester from Forest Green.
In terms of outgoings, Morgan Feeney departed to join Carlisle United, and the club received a fee from Newcastle for academy player Jay Turner-Cooke.
The main issue with incomings is that the wage cap prevents the club from making permanent signings from superior leagues, unless the player is willing to take an extortionate wage cut.
However, players aged under 21 do not count towards that number, plus Sunderland have only used one of their five loans in Dion Sanderson from Wolves.
Many League One clubs thrive on signing Premier League or Championship youngsters, but Sunderland have barely used this strategy throughout their three year tenure in League One.
In terms of outgoings, Sunderland are suffering from the same problem they faced in the Premier League - the club overpay players they then cannot move on.
This month it would of been ideal to lose Danny Graham and Will Grigg, who simply have not found scoring consistency, but their wages appear too high to develop genuine interest from elsewhere.
With ten days to go, Kristjaan Speakman and Lee Johnson face an integral task of bringing in fresh faces, particularly the pace and power the squad is completely void of.
Carl Winchester may start to contribute effectively, but signing a central midfielder who has played his entire career in League One and Two is not going to fire the club to promotion.
Even if it is youth loans to avoid going over the cap, Sunderland must recruit fresh blood.