Tuesday night's limp showing in Shropshire is the kind of result that has become woefully common during Sunderland’s time in League One. After our blistering start to the campaign, I had very much hoped we’d left these performances back in the Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson days.
Alas, I was apparently too hopeful.
I didn’t anticipate my team failing to beat a 10 man side who are likely going to be in the relegation scrap this season. Just a matter of weeks ago we went to Crewe and put them to the sword, and they had 11 players on the pitch throughout.
So what the hell has happened to us since then?
Confidence throughout the side is shot. We’ve been thumped away from home twice since that 4-0 win in Cheshire, and we’ve been pretty dreadful in the majority of our away matches this season.
More physical sides are having an absolute field day with us in the middle of the park, to a point where if you were to watch one of our matches against a side in the drop zone you might be forgiven for thinking we were the side fighting to stay in the division.
Writing this, it’s hard to avoid becoming the irritating sound of a broken record. We just cannot seem to get our composure for long enough spells in a campaign to mount a solid promotion charge.
Our start to the season was superb, we turned over some teams who are now above us in the table and are looking stronger and showing far more fight.
Take Wigan, for example, who appeared dead and buried at Cambridge on Tuesday, but wrestled back to gain a valuable point. Does anyone have faith in this being something we could do after falling behind?
Seeing as though we can’t take a match against an out-of-form, ten man Shrewsbury Town side by the scruff of the neck, I very much doubt it. I hate the label of a pessimist and I try to avoid leaning into this category, but we are quickly reaching the point where blind optimism just isn’t going to cut it with Lee Johnson anymore.
Our clinical start to the season has been replaced by a run of form that has seen us sleepwalking towards the bottom end of the playoffs with little more than a whimper. We don’t have a god-given right to walk this league, four seasons and counting at this level shows that this idea is utter nonsense.
Serious questions are rightly being asked about how Sunderland are expected to wrestle for a place in the top two when three points away at sides like Shrewsbury seem out of reach.
The saving grace is, of course, that there is still a large chunk of the league season still to play. There are plenty of points to be gained, but having already dropped a good few, you would think that dropping many more (especially against relegation fodder) would really put the nail in the coffin of a top-two charge.
It’s never straightforward following the Lads, but this season more than any in our League One spell has been nothing short of infuriating. A good run followed by an abysmal run has been a real kick in the teeth for any early season optimism, and at present we look a long way from regaining any of that early season momentum.
But hey, no need to grumble, it’s only a month until Christmas, so it’s not all bad...