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Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship

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Not good enough - but not unexpected either

Results like the one on Saturday are not totally unexpected, and there should not be any panic or demands for change, but the manner of the defeat was unacceptable.

Photo by Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

The worst performance of the season, the most morale-sapping home result of the season, and a game during which Sunderland’s flaws were brutally exposed - partly by a Cardiff side who could hardly believe their luck, and partly due to our own shortcomings and an astonishing lack of structure and discipline on Saturday afternoon.

What began with excitement and expectation as an attack-minded starting XI was published turned to despair and anger at 4:50pm as what remained of the crowd began to head for the exits - to say nothing of the acts of thuggery and boorish behaviour that tainted yet another Sunderland home game.

Mercifully, the pre-match Remembrance Day ceremony was beautifully orchestrated (albeit with an unwelcome smattering of applause during the two-minute silence), and that was as good as it got.

There is no overlooking the fact that our home form is poor, with a mere two victories in front of our own fans this season, and despite the madness of the second half against Burnley this somehow felt worse, because the errors were more glaring, the lack of cohesion was starker, and the mistakes were so eminently avoidable.

Sunderland’s first half performance was nothing short of chaotic, and as efficient as the Bluebirds were you suspected that they could barely believe how much of a helping hand we gave them. Quite how we went from the efficiency of the game against Huddersfield to this is difficult to fathom.

From the five minute mark onwards passes went astray, chasms appeared in midfield as Dan Neil and Abdoullah Ba were swamped by an aggressive Cardiff press, and defensively we were panic-stricken.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

When Bailey Wright played a suicidal pass across his own box, Danny Batth conceded an early penalty and only a smart save from Anthony Patterson prevented a bad start from turning into a disastrous one. Subsequently, Patterson was one of the few Sunderland players to emerge from the game in credit.

Upfront, Ellis Simms cut an isolated and frustrated figure, seemingly unwilling to challenge at full tilt in the air and unable to make any real impact with the ball at his feet. The Everton loanee has potential and talent, but he needs to unlock it, and only hard work and full commitment will suffice.

Somehow, we managed to keep the score at 0-0, and when the whistle blew for half time, the only question was how on Earth we’d done so.

By the time Mowbray finally made the changes that everyone had been crying out for, as Corry Evans and Alex Pritchard entered the fray, we’d fallen behind and the plans had been shredded.

Mark Harris’s goal, the result of yet more sloppy play from us, had been coming, and despite some half-hearted offside claims, nobody could say that it was undeserved.

At the risk of clutching at straws, our second half performance was fractionally better, but the bar was set so low that it could scarcely have been worse.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pritchard did try and make things happen when he got on the ball, and Jewison Bennette injected a little bit of urgency when he came on, but that was about as good as it got. As the minutes ebbed away, the hardy band of Cardiff supporters broke into an impromptu chorus of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, and our supporters had to digest the prospect of another home loss.

After this fiasco, Mowbray needs to pick the players up, and swiftly.

A Friday night fixture at St Andrews is next on the agenda, and although our away form has been a source of comfort this season, Birmingham will be a tricky opponent and we simply must show than we did on Saturday.

The smart money would be on Evans and Pritchard to start the game, but the confidence of Neil and Ba, both of whom will undoubtedly recover from this experience, would've taken a knock, and building it up again could be tricky.

After four years in League One, during which time the expectation to win was relentless, the dynamic is different now.

A glance at the form and historical finishing positions of newly-promoted teams tells us that results like Saturday are not totally unexpected, and there should not be any panic or demands for change, but the manner of the defeat was unacceptable.

If Sunderland are to head into the World Cup break on an upbeat note, they need to deliver a performance and a result in the West Midlands that represents a significant improvement on this. Away from home, we often thrive, and let’s hope that is the case again.

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