Shameful. Embarrassing. Humiliating.
Three words that you could use to describe another candidate for the worst defeat in our recent history. Throw a multitude of expletives into the mix, & you’d get somewhere close to describing the absolute shambles that unfolded against Bolton on Saturday.
The result left 5000 fans absolutely livid, and as we found out on Sunday night, has also cost us a manager, as Lee Johnson departed after just over a year in charge.
Every single player in a Sunderland shirt ought to feel thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed about the role they played, because this result will be etched in the history books & not forgotten in a hurry. The season will continue, as will our aspirations of promotion, but the scar will not heal quickly.
A week after grinding out a victory against Portsmouth to keep ourselves in the automatic promotion picture, we blundered, stumbled, and ultimately slumped to a 6-0 defeat against a team who are certainly a good deal better than their league position suggests.
Did anyone see this coming? Could anyone have seriously predicted we’d have plumbed such depths of ineptitude, especially after last weekend’s gritty victory over Portsmouth?
Trying to pinpoint a turning point of this game is nigh on impossible because things went wrong early, and we never looked like turning the tide.
From Thorben Hoffmann’s kamikaze dash off his line which led to Bolton’s opening goal, to the own goal from Danny Batth which capped off the day in suitably comical fashion, the entire game was a masterclass in how to fall apart at alarming speed.
Simply put, Sunderland were completely lacking in composure, physicality, aggression, game management, and Bolton duly capitalised, time after time, probably to their own disbelief.
For many of Sunderland’s younger players, some of whom have contributed significantly this season, this was a brutal reality check.
Whether Dan Neil’s head has been turned by transfer speculation, who knows, but he is certainly not influencing games to as great a degree as he has done, and Callum Doyle looked absolutely overwhelmed at times, although he did at least have the decency to salute the fans at the end of the game. Excellent professionalism from such a young player.
These lads do deserve some patience, because they are learning the game and trying to be part of a promotion-winning squad at the same time. Not easy, by any means, but that is simply life at Sunderland in 2022. You adapt or you wilt under the pressure.
As for Lee Johnson? This was clearly a loss too far, and he has paid the price with the loss of his job.
Yes, the odd heavy defeat can be excused as a bad day at the office, but this was the fourth hammering we’ve had to endure this season, following the calamities of Portsmouth, Rotherham, and Sheffield Wednesday, and each one has followed the same script: the opposition get in our faces, make life tough, and we simply don’t put up enough resistance.
The club’s search for physicality in midfield and defence has been a long-running mission. Creativity-wise, we are well-stocked, but without a stronger spine, we will remain vulnerable.
Before the game, Johnson was already operating on minimal credit with many supporters, and Saturday was clearly the dreaded point of no return.
Credibility does play a role in managing this football club, and there is no doubt that Johnson was losing his at a rapid rate. His post-match interview on Saturday, during which he looked absolutely haunted, didn’t exactly fill you with confidence, either.
I do believe that Johnson could’ve delivered promotion this season, but we will never know what would’ve happened if he had been given the full season to try and continue to challenge. Personally, I do feel sad that he has departed, but relieved that he won’t have to put up with any more vicious criticism.
The question is, how on Earth could the same manager go from overseeing superb results, like the 5-0 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday at home, to absolute horror shows like this?
There is no doubt that Sunderland have a glaring weakness whenever they are away from the Stadium of Light. We seldom dominate games away from home, and we often seem intimidated by unfamiliar environments. Worryingly, we seem no closer to solving this issue than we were after we were beaten 5-1 at Rotherham.
Sunderland and its supporters have taken many kickings over the years, and certainly since we dropped into League One. This one will live long in the memory, and if the players have anything about them, they will be absolutely hellbent on ensuring that something like this never happens again, beginning with Doncaster on Saturday.
They owe us that much, as a bare minimum.