The phrase ‘it’s the hope that kills you’ suits Sunderland AFC more than it does practically every other team in the Football League.
The Lincoln match should have been a chance to put the gut-wrenching last gasp leveller at Wycombe on Saturday behind us against a side with just 14 available outfield players, and who were down at the wrong end of the table.
On paper, it should have been a game that we had no trouble with. Yet the game isn’t won on paper which is more the pity; at least that way we wouldn’t have been subjected to 90 minutes of absolute dross last night.
From start to finish, we looked like the sickly cousin of the side that had brushed aside Sheffield Wednesday less than a fortnight ago.
Yet that was half the problem; we have missed key players in the last two matches, and to be blunt, we desperately need some of them back.
From front to back, we were dreadful.
Tom Flanagan reverted back to being the ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ player that we thought we’d left behind.
Lynden Gooch undid any progress he’s made in recent weeks by playing like a footballer who’d never kicked a ball in his life.
Even switching him to right wing in the second half didn’t stop him from making his rash decision to try and smash it towards goal from outside the box, an error that led directly to the goal that sealed it for The Imps.
Each time Embleton got the ball he seemed like he’d been cursed. It’s not something we’re used to seeing from Embo but he, like a lot of players last night, had his worst game of the season.
That was the biggest issue. If one or two players have an off day, it doesn’t tend to have a massive impact on the way a game goes, yet when most of th team have an absolute stinker, you’ve got a massive problem.
There were other factors that contributed to our dismal performance, but blaming the pitch, the ref or a former player winding us up shouldn’t hold back a side gunning for promotion.
This was our worst performance since dropping into League One. Too many of our players looked tired, devoid of ideas and fragile on the ball.
Even our goal, the rebound from the penalty, was scrappy. It gave us more horrible hope, only for us to be carved open minutes later for their third.
Last night’s performance was grim. It was a throwback to some displays during the Phil Parkinson and even, god forbid, Simon Grayson days. However, it must be used as a learning curve.
The need to wipe a display like this from the mind and soul is important beyond belief. A slim positive to take is that we’ll hopefully have a few more players return to the fold for Saturday’s trip to Accrington. If one of those is Bailey Wright, then I’ll feel happier.
So there we are. Sunderland allowed an ex-player who is renowned for being a shithouse to shithouse us to high heaven, we had one of our in-form players sent off, and our manager was dismissed from the touchline.
If that isn’t ‘Sunderland doing a Sunderland’ then I don’t know what is.
Even teams who get promoted have the occasional stinker - and this isn’t our first this season - but more displays as bad as this one will lead us in only one direction. Time to draw a line under it, move on and get back to winning ways.