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Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One

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Sunderland’s Pompey pasting offers a chance to learn harsh lessons about life in League One

After a match that was about as bleak as a night out at The Strawberry, Ian Bendelow says the defeat at Fratton Park should be beneficial in the long run...

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, not long after full time, I was in the forlorn and ultimately doomed process of trying to make my two-year old daughter eat her tea which, to her displeasure, contained vegetables.

“Pool” she said.

“Swimming pool... swimming pool.”

Now as anyone with a small human knows, they are remarkably adept at pushing your buttons in quite ingenious ways. I had, after all, been shouting “call it off!” for the best part of an hour not long before.

“Pool... Swimming costume on... now please.”

Is that what I think it is? Is she really trolling me about the shellacking at Fratton Park a mere 40 minutes after full time? She could have waited.

Of course, the real reason is that she’s just started swimming lessons down the local pool and wanted me to take her. Which, given my current state of funk, just wasn’t happening.

Thinking about it, she made an important point, albeit indirectly. It wasn’t about the swimming pool at Fratton Park as I initially thought - and it shouldn’t be for Lee Johnson and the players.

True, the conditions had an impact on the game - but frankly, whether it was a good or bad one from a Sunderland perspective is questionable. If the sun had been shining it might have ended up 6-0.

The signs by the side of the pitch at Fratton Park said “keep off the grass” - it was perhaps something which the away team should have taken a little bit more notice of.

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

But really, to blame the conditions is the hallmark of someone who learns nothing, despite the fact that too many of the players clearly didn’t have their Pool Frog One badge.

To his credit, Johnson spoke well after the match, offering no excuses - and in the process aiming a thinly veiled swipe at some of the senior players no doubt in the hope of sparking a reaction. You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter, and the only positive from yesterday is that Johnson looks determined to learn from - and not repeat - what happened on Saturday.

You can tell that he feels it too. There was a selfie of him with a kid after the game. In it, the expression he wore was of a man who had to knock on the door of a house to tell an 8-year old he’d just ran over his dog outside.

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

So we have to face up to a raft of interesting life lessons. This is a young squad, and it won’t all be plain sailing this season (ahem) but we must hope that the Fratton Park horror show was the nadir.

Because League One will not all be sipping Pina Coladas and coasting to victory every week - and with each game that goes by, the opposition will find a way to get at us. In turn, we must find more ways to win - adapt in turn, but better. And faster.

Fleetwood, and now Portsmouth have got under our skin; what prizes for guessing how many times the phrase “this lot don’t like it up them” was mentioned in the stands by opposition fans?

The truth is this has been reflected in our - at best indifferent - away form so far. We must not get overconfident - because now we know a 5-0 victory can swiftly be wiped out with a complete battering. We’re not the only ones - Ipswich, who tanked Doncaster 6-0 in the week, let a one-goal lead slip against an out of form Accrington.

Gillingham will offer a similar test to Portsmouth, so a significant improvement is needed. Though there’s nothing worse than going into a two-week break on the back of a pasting, it also means there’s plenty of time to work on a myriad of issues that were apparent. The good news is it is to do with adaptability and not talent.

And I back the players to respond. Do you think Luke O’Nien is going to accept what happened, both personally and as a team? Will Hoffmann really be happy about the manner of the goals he conceded? What about Cirkin? Who has displayed such maturity and ability in his time here so far - hopefully, something is burning inside him to put this right. Ultimately, as Martin said in Talking Points, the squad needs to harness this disappointment.

It’s not in doubt that this side has shown it is capable of success based on the 10 games played, as it has produced 22 points. Over the course of 46 games, that would give you a haul of 101 - more than acceptable.

However, splish-splash-splosh-gate has bought into sharp focus that it will not come easy. Better learn that lesson with 36 matches to go.

In the final of the Euros, during the penalty shootout, there was a close-up of Jordan Pickford just before he saved Jorginho’s spot-kick to keep England alive. “No problem” he told himself before ending the Italian’s 100% record for his national team.

It was an incredible display of mental strength.

It’s exactly what this team should be saying right now.


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