It is hard to imagine how dramatically the picture can change in the football world within the short space of two weeks.
For Sunderland, only two weeks ago, they enjoyed a superb and comfortable 4-0 win over relegation-strugglers, Crewe Alexandra, in a performance that was both clinical and attractive.
Now, 14 days later, pressure is beginning to mount for the Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson, after two consecutive thrashings away from home – the latest coming at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday.
On Saturday evening, Lee Johnson stood in front of the media at the AESSEAL New York Stadium with a rather sombre tone, and reflected how his players “must win their individual duels” at Sheffield Wednesday, and “show a willingness to get to their own personal best”.
However, the performance the team put in was far from that.
Defensive frailties, a lack of an attacking spark and a failure to learn lessons were just some of the concerns to unpick from another cruel away day for the Sunderland support, and another performance that was simply not good enough for a side craving automatic promotion.
After Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing from Rotherham, Lee Johnson opted for a change of formation to a 4-3-3 system that worked so well against QPR only seven days previous, strengthening the midfield with Corry Evans being added into the starting 11.
The extra body wasn’t helping Sunderland’s approach in the early stages, as a scrappy opening to the game hinted at what Sheffield Wednesday were capable of – Kamberi’s left-footed effort was pinged wide of the left post.
Sunderland failed to take heed of those warning signs, however. The defence switched off, and a long ball forward dropped for Theo Corbeanu in acres of space on the left. Despite Lynden Gooch’s delayed efforts to burst back to support, the Wednesday wing-back was able to side-foot the ball superbly into the bottom right corner.
Sunderland needed to get some form of control on the game but were unable to keep possession, and the game seemed to be following a similar script to Saturday, with Sunderland resorting to long balls all too often.
They were lucky that they weren’t further behind, as Kamberi’s header from Callum Paterson’s cross was deflected behind by the back of Tom Flanagan, but Sunderland began to up the tempo and look more threatening in more dangerous areas.
First, O’Brien’s effort from the edge of the area was blocked, before Dan Neil had a goal disallowed for an offside in the build-up from Lynden Gooch.
Winchester also tried to test Bailey Peacock-Farrell, but his tame effort from inside of the area dropped straight into the gloves of the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper.
Darren Moore’s side then produced what would prove to be a killer blow to the Black Cats, and yet again, it was far too easy for the home side.
Corbeanu’s cross into the penalty area wasn’t cleared by the Black Cats, and it allowed Florian Kamberi to dig the ball out of his feet and tap it underneath Hoffmann, to give Wednesday a two-goal lead.
After looking more positive in their approach before the second goal, Sunderland looked more creative and dangerous after, as Dan Neil’s thumping effort from outside of the penalty area stung the gloves of the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, before Tom Flanagan’s volley drew another save from the Wednesday shot-stopper.
The second half began in a similar vein for Sunderland, but they gifted the home side space and time and ultimately, Wednesday netted their third, which sealed the three points and piled on more misery for Sunderland.
Paterson fizzed the ball into the penalty area, and it was poked past Hoffmann by the Sheffield Wednesday striker, Lee Gregory.
Yet again, too easy.
Sunderland were lucky that another match’s humiliation wasn’t made any worse, with Paterson’s volley flying over the bar before he had another effort that was blocked by the leg of Hoffmann from only a couple of yards out.
When the Black Cats did push forward, it proved to be all too easy for the home side, as Sunderland’s finishing evaded them at the key moments: Cirkin, O’Nien and Stewart were unable to poke the ball past Peacock-Farrell in a goalmouth scramble that was able to be cleared by the Owls.
But, for another successive away match, the Sunderland players were greeted with a chorus of boos from the depleted travelling following, as yet again, it was all too easy and simple for the opposition.
And, that proves to be a similar story that it costing Sunderland more and more points, and the pressure is starting to build on Lee Johnson for a response.
And that response has just under three weeks to materialise.
Home cup matches against Mansfield and Bradford in the FA Cup and EFL Trophy respectively will most likely feature youthful sides, and give Lee Johnson precious time with his players to work on a desperately needed response.
Ipswich Town are next up in League One for Sunderland – it’s a significant game in Sunderland’s season, and one in which Lee Johnson needs a result.
Sunderland’s grip on the top two has deteriorated, and if anything, Tuesday’s defeat to Sheffield Wednesday exploited more of their weaknesses, both in defence and in attack. At the moment, Sunderland just aren’t learning from them.
Two weeks ago, the Black Cats enjoyed a comfortable win over Crewe Alexandra in one of the most impressive performances of the season, but two weeks down the line, and Sunderland are under pressure for a result.