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Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship

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The State Of Play

“Saturday’s defeat was a difficult watch on a number of levels. However, should the on-field and off-field events have come as a surprise? I would argue not,” writes David Holloway.

Photo by Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

Let us start with the positive - the Remembrance Day display was a magnificent gesture of support to those who have and who serve this country.

Those who were remembered fought for principles, their personal freedom and free speech. The work which The Spirit of 73 fan group have put into each of the displays this season are a credit to all involved and shows our supporter base at its very best, so the magnificence of Saturday's display was certainly not a surprise.

What followed was less creditable - the booing by elements of the Roker End of the Cardiff players taking the knee was audible in my seat in the North Stand. Free speech is one thing, but respect is another. The welcoming reputation of Sunderland AFC and wider City region has traditionally been something that we could be proud of especially in times when the team have let the club down. Sadly, this bad behaviour (it must be said by a minority) is no longer an outlier - it no longer comes as a surprise.

The reputation of openness, friendliness and being welcoming to visitors was hard won but it will be easily lost if such behaviour and the reported antics of a minority of so-called supporters after the match are to continue. There will be less of a welcome if we are lucky enough to take over the West End of London for a sunny weekend again, and less of a welcome on our travels if our good reputation is lost. Those involved should think about that, if thought is something that they are capable of.

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

On to the match, and we were lucky to get away with a one-nil defeat. There can be no beating about the bush, it was a poor performance against a team that more often than not we would hope to beat. After a bright start to this season, the squad, beset with injuries, are beginning to look jaded.

Our play is disjointed and dysfunctional. Should this be a surprise?

Maybe, maybe not. This is a talented but imperfect squad. Most of the squad were involved in a just about achieved promotion from a poor League One. The step up in intensity is bound to take its toll.

The team have performed brilliantly up until the last few games, this without our best player and our big summer signing, as well as numerous other injuries. The games have been coming thick and fast and our experienced players Baath, Pritchard and Evans have carried us through with the younger players rising superbly to the challenge. We have come up against some good teams and competed but never really dominated. We are where we are in midtable, and there is nothing wrong with that at this stage in our rebuild.

In the absence of a striker, Alex Pritchard has been playing higher up the field having to press the central defenders, be our most creative influence and try to get into the box to find an opportunity to score.

Is it any wonder Mowbray felt the need to give him a break? We know Corry Evans’ history with injuries – can Mowbray be faulted for trying something different? Whatever, it didn’t work and that’s on the manager, it’s his responsibility and to his credit, Mowbray is honest enough to accept it.

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

The club and the manager have been honest about the project - it seems it’s what led to Alex Neil’s departure. But that decision was on him, his loyalty to his own career overriding his ambition for the club’s future and his part in that journey. Mowbray stepped into that void and has been pretty steady.

It’s clear that we are not going to spend our way out of this league - the club have been honest about that. We have seen what happens when money is all that you have, that’s the Ellis Short way and we aren’t going back there, nor should we.

A huge part of Mowbray’s role is to develop the young players which he has at his disposal, as if that is the case then afternoons like Saturday will happen. He has to try things, he has to pair Neil with Ba and allow Amad the chance in a free role. Could he have done it differently? Of course, he could and he will know that, but he will have a much better idea of what is required to further develop this young talent, and that is all part of the process.

Not all of the young players will make it - some will, more probably won't, but the club need the freedom and support of the fanbase to make it work. Money is clearly tight, despite our magnificent attendances. Let’s remember that matchday income, even at our level of attendance, will probably just about cover the wage bill.

The owners are trying to build a sustainable model - we can’t expect to rely on a benefactor, and we should not borrow to buy players. If the last twenty years have shown anything, it’s that that is the path which leads to disaster.

There will be plenty of bumps along the road and whilst any home defeat is hard to take, despite us being Sunderland and all that this means, it will just happen.

The imminent break for the World Cup is coming at a good time for us. It is a chance for the squad to take a break, to get some important players back fit and attack the second half of the season. The disappointment of Saturday is in many ways a tribute to the start which we have made to this season.

Perhaps it is also a good time for the fanbase to take a break, we have had match after match with sell-out away allocations and huge home attendances. Maybe a few weeks to reflect and recharge our own batteries will be welcome.

Expectations have been raised and every loss is felt - that’s good, it shows that we care again. For too long perhaps we just didn’t. That energy however must be used in a positive way and not negatively whether that is to stress at the team, the manager, the Sporting Director or visiting fans. There remains much to play for and we need to remember the principles on which this great club has always been built upon.

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