At the full-time whistle, there were clear feelings of disappointment and regret both on and off the pitch.
When the game was up, Thorben Hoffmann turned around to the depleted away support and held his hands up. He knew it was far from his best day in between the sticks.
From the away support that were still standing in the South Stand, there were small murmurs of boos, and in truth, you can’t blame them.
A 242-mile round trip on a Saturday afternoon was greeted with a more than humiliating Halloween nightmare in a 5-1 defeat.
For some Sunderland fans, it’s approaching the end of a long week spent on the road; trips to QPR, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday all come in an eight-day period, and fans thrive off the results on the pitch, and if they aren’t going that well, they certainly have a right to voice their opinions – as shown at the full-time whistle at the New York Stadium.
Yes, there is always going to be these games in a League One season, but the fact that it’s occurred twice in the space of one month is what is worrying a section of the Sunderland support.
Portsmouth was no doubt a learning curve for this set of players; the conditions added to a 90 minutes during which they were out-muscled and simple out-played, but the defeat to Rotherham was one where Sunderland simply didn’t turn up, and were there for the taking.
In truth, it was a hideous day, where Sunderland lacked any control, any creativity, and at times, any leaders on the pitch, and were ultimately punished by a side with more quality.
Rotherham came into proceedings at the New York Stadium unbeaten since early September, and began the opening stages positively.
Sunderland were pinned back in defensive third and unable to hold any sort of possession without the pro-active Rotherham press gaining the ball back, and that proved to be the bedrock of Rotherham’s afternoon.
The early warning signs were there for Lee Johnson, as Dan Barlaser’s ambitious volley was arrowed narrowly over the bar, before the Millers did find the break-through.
Ben Wiles’ cut-back found Freddie Ladapo inside of the penalty area, before his dink-ball to the back post was diverted over Hoffmann by Michael Smith.
A partial break to action due to a collision between two Rotherham players inside the Sunderland penalty area helped Sunderland to recover from a brutal opening period, and to an extent they did recover, as with 24 minutes on the clock, the Black Cats were level.
Neil’s one-two with McGeady opened some space for the midfielder, who found Ross Stewart on the left. Despite having still lots of work to do, Stewart drove into the box and unleashed an effort into the bottom left corner.
Sunderland were level, but that only lasted just over 15 minutes, as Rotherham, who still looked the more dangerous, found their lead again.
Doyle conceded possession in the centre of the park, before Smith’s low cross was poked past a stranded Hoffmann by Ladapo.
Just before the half-time interval, the game was unfortunate not to have swung in either side’s favour, as both teams carved out glorious opportunities.
First, Stewart’s 25-yard drive crashed off the inside of the left post, before Ladapo’s header was angled inches wide of Hoffmann’s goal.
Lee Johnson recognised that Sunderland needed something different at half-time, and made two changes at the interval in try to swing the pendulum back in the direction of his side.
Both Bailey Wright and Lynden Gooch were introduced into the play, but the away side were three-one down less than ten minutes into the second half.
Michael Ihiekwe rose the highest to meet Shane Ferguson’s corner to loop a header over the Sunderland goalkeeper, as the Black Cats were losing both their foothold in the match, and also their composure – and the points were handed to the Millers only moments later.
An early yellow at the start of the second half had Aiden McGeady walking a tightrope, and after he lunged in ferociously on Chiedozie Ogbene, he saw red to top off Sunderland’s disastrous afternoon.
All that was left for Sunderland to do was to try and keep the score down, but the league’s second top-scorers added to their tally when Smith planted his header into the bottom right corner for a second time.
Their torturous afternoon in Yorkshire was rather summed up by the calamitous circumstances in which Rotherham’s fifth goal arrived. Joshua Kayode stole possession from Hoffmann after Bailey Wright’s backpass, and allowed Ladapo to gain his second of the afternoon by side-footing the ball into an empty net.
Tame efforts from both Dan Neil and Corry Evans in the late stages proved to be Sunderland’s best efforts on an afternoon where their promotion credentials were really given a beating by another promotion hopeful, in a match that Lee Johnson described as “men against boys”.
And it’s for these reasons why there was such a rich feeling of disappointment and regret upon the full-time whistle. Sunderland knew that they’d been on the end of a massive thumping that will live with the team for the next couple of weeks at least.
It’ll be hard to forget about this defeat, unless what follows is a period of success on the pitch, in a time for the club where things – from an injury perspective – are going wrong off it.
Denver Hume’s injury in midweek added to Lee Johnson’s misery, with Niall Huggins and Nathan Broadhead just two of the summer signings out of action for a little while yet.
For now, Lee Johnson’s just going to have to use what he’s got – the players “that he trusts and are going to run around, sprint and tackle and use their physicality to be the best that they possibly can”.
It was these traits that Sunderland were missing so badly, combined with their inability to hold possession in the midfield area, and their lack of composure when it really mattered.
For Johnson, it’s back to the drawing board ahead of another crucial League One match on Tuesday at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday, in a game where the three points are crucial to regain focus back onto automatic promotion.
Saturday was a day that Sunderland must put behind them sooner rather than later, and a win on Tuesday will help elevate any worries ahead of another busy month.
With seven months of the League One season remaining, there is still a lot of work to do on the pitch to reach the end-goal of promotion, because Sunderland don’t want to feel these emotions of disappointment and regret again.