From euphoria at 3:45pm to utter despair when the final whistle blew on Saturday evening.
This encounter with Burnley, a team with designs on promotion under Vincent Kompany, had been billed as a true test of where we stood in our development, but as we streamed away from the Stadium of Light and the inquest began, the only topic of conversation among the hordes of stunned fans seemed to be, ‘How the hell did this happen?’
During an inexplicable forty five minutes, we conspired to leak four goals, three of which were eminently avoidable, and in doing so, rendered a superb first half performance utterly void.
Confidence is likely to have taken a major knock in the aftermath of this game, and Tony Mowbray, an avuncular father figure of a coach, needs to use all of his experience to help the players lift their heads.
For someone like Edouard Michut, who’s swapped the glamour of PSG for Wearside, this would’ve been an eye-opener, and proof that talent needs to be burnished by resilience in order to succeed in English football.
What made the outcome so sickening is that it didn’t seem to be a remote possibility as the whistle blew.
Our first half performance could scarcely have been better, and Mowbray must’ve been utterly delighted with what he saw, as we ticked every single box in what was easily our best half of football all season.
Our energy and aggression were first class; Amad was stretching the visitors’ defence at every opening, and Elliot Embleton played like a man possessed, chasing relentlessly and doing everything in his power to keep us on the front foot.
Hitting the Clarets with two goals in quick succession, first from Amad and then a superbly-taken strike from Dan Neil, had the stadium electrified, and the fans believing that a statement victory was on the cards. The away side, laden with ex-Premier League players, offered next to nothing, and the sharp-suited Kompany seemed to be at a loss on the touchline.
Sadly, that was the peak of our efforts.
Quite what was said in the dressing room, or what the players discussed amongst themselves as they headed down the tunnel for the second half, nobody knows, but they had to have known that Burnley would respond, presumably after a tongue-lashing from Kompany, and come out firing.
To nobody’s surprise, that’s exactly what happened, but from a red and white perspective, it was astonishing to witness. The away side tore into us in much the same way that we had attacked them, and the onslaught proved too much to handle.
Nathan Tella’s header, after some less-than-convincing goalkeeping from Anthony Patterson, and a speculative cross/shot from Manuel Benson brought the scores level, and all of the hard work was undone as we were pegged back.
Suddenly, from being positive and imposing, we were timid, confused and unable to gain any momentum. Possession wasn’t being retained, and we were being pulled this way and that, particularly out wide, as Kompany’s men turned up the wick.
Burnley’s third, a sublime strike from Anass Zaroury, was a moment of real quality, but Trai Hume’s weak challenge in the buildup couldn’t be overlooked, and when Dan Neil was dispossessed in a dangerous area and the visitors broke forward, Josh Brownhill’s finish added insult to injury- and prompted the fans to head for the exits en masse.
As the final minutes elapsed, the only noise was from the travelling fans, who were probably as shocked at the emphatic turnaround as we were. You had to admire the way they approached the second half, even if a pocket of their supporters disgraced the club by throwing missiles, and it would be no surprise to see them in the promotion mix come next spring.
For Sunderland, it is imperative is that kind of display this doesn’t become habitual.
We cannot allow such collapses to happen again, and as we prepare for next Saturday’s visit to Luton (themselves beaten 4-0 on Sunday) we need to show much more steel to go with our skill. In that regard, perhaps the addition of Bailey Wright to our defence will provide some much-needed calmness.
It was painful to see Saturday’s game turn around so suddenly, but the Championship is brutal at times, and this was another glaring example. Our powers of recovery are sure to be tested this week, and the trip to Kenilworth Road needs to be a worthwhile one.