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Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Talking Points: Sunderland have gone from good to bad to hopeless - it almost defies belief

Just what can you say about the last few weeks? It was all on display on Saturday. No plan, no shape, no leadership. Where on earth do we go from here?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

The season is over. This side is far too soft. This club is dying.

Yes there may be people out there who say the last few weeks will bring out the histrionics from those who are desperate to be heard. To an extent, they have a point.

Usually Talking Points would look at matches in isolation, but it just feels like this performance and result said so much more about the wider state of this club right now.

The performance and result on Saturday, coupled with recent events mean that while it is mathematically possible - and some may argue probable - that Sunderland will get into the playoffs, this is a club in complete and utter freefall. The players look shorn of confidence, the side far too top heavy, and they don’t look like they could beat an egg, let alone win a football match.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

If I am standing at Wembley in May, celebrating a successful playoff campaign, then I will apologise to each and every person who said we should still believe.

However they look like a side so easy to beat, with such a soft centre. Who of an MK Dons persuasion could say they had to work hard for the three points? Because - just like Lincoln, Bolton and Doncaster of late, they did not.

There are longer-term concerns here though - because in the four seasons we have endured in league one, each campaign has had traumatic events occur that have put paid to our hopes. And the truth is - just like those seasons before, Sunderland won’t even come close to getting out of this division. Not a cat in hell’s chance. And it may get worse, we may not have reached the nadir. This club could be in the process of having the life squeezed out of it, we just don’t fully realise it yet.

There have been 12 promotion places up for grabs during our time in this league - eight automatic, four in the playoffs - and this team has never really looked like claiming one of them at any point.

That is a disgrace.

The frustrating thing is this - it’s not necessarily down to ability - but psychology. Again, Sunderland conceded goals that came out of absolutely nowhere during periods where they were not playing badly per se, but passively.

It’s a horrible trait and one which has to be fixed - or this purgatory will go on, and on, and on.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland’s disjointed line up and ponderous nature was crying out to be punished

I had the pleasure of sitting next to a gentleman at the match who had probably imbibed a fair few beers pre-match.

He was, you could say, well refreshed.

Even he though could identify the issues with our set up in the first half - which, while it ended level, was extremely poor. Ross Stewart looked as if he had been sent to Siberia, as the big man looked so isolated, crying out for a link between midfield and attack.

That should have come in the form of Alex Pritchard, who was inexplicably moved out to the wing, where he is far less effective.

Jay Matete, Dan Neil or Corry Evans are not going to play further forward to fill that gap - and neither should they. They are not those types of players. The truth is I’m not actually sure what kind of player the latter is right now - he is our captain, but is doing precious little to show why. More of that below.

Credit to Alex Neil for changing things up in the second half, which brought about an immediate impact; however individual errors cost the home side a point - and at 1-1 it never really felt like Sunderland would go on to lose the match. But they did, with a goal from absolutely nowhere - and that is extremely concerning.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As for the defence, well, Neil said that they played pretty well throughout the game. I beg to differ - because in the key moment where they needed to be alert and organised, there appeared a gap you could have landed a jumbo jet in between our central defenders, and Mo Eisa was away.

On those small moments, well-organised teams will punish you with little exertion.


This is a side with no identity

To be honest you could substitute identity with any number of words: zip, drive, determination, pizzaz, confidence, energy, direction - the list could go on.

Just what has happened? The truth is, it probably began when Nathan Broadhead twanged his hamstring against Arsenal - as he provided so much of what we need right now, and also played in the way which would have made Lee Johnson’s sides so effective.

From that point onwards, it got worse. Much, much worse. Even the most gloomy predictions of SAGE modellers wouldn’t have included what has transpired as a possible outcome.

The team on Saturday was unrecognisable - no one in a red and white shirt really showed any evidence of the good they had done in the first half of the season. It was like watching a Steve Bruce side in the dying embers of his tenure - the difference being that was the Premier League. This is League One for goodness sake.

It was commented that it is like someone has wiped their memories in mid-January. Ain’t that the truth.

Also, where are the leaders on the pitch? What of this much-trumpeted leadership group? Injured or departed, in the main. However, Corry Evans deserves considerable criticism for his performance, because he was showing zero signs of leadership on the pitch. He covered so little ground and had so little effect on the side, Jay Matete - the man who should have signed for this club in place of Evans last summer - was forced to perform the role of two men. Because he got precious little help from his partner in the middle who was - apparently - the most experienced on the park.

When a team is crying out for direction, if there is no one to look to in order to drive the team on, then that is a damning indictment of the attitude at this club right now.

Is anyone missing Lee Johnson?

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Atmosphere...

The general funk around the game was, as Bobby Saxton might say, “minging” from kick-off. The fact it was Alex Neil’s first match in charge probably stopped it getting toxic, quickly.

However, the boos which accompanied the substitution of Corry Evans were unusual, because it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that reaction to a player from the home fans. Probably since the days of Kevin Kilbane.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

It highlights the desperation of the home support, and the anger and sadness felt at this rudderless, directionless and ultimately failing club being in this desperate position.

The men to blame? Principally the chancers who were so ill-equipped to be administrators of a football club it was almost laughable. Thin-skinned Charlie Methven couldn’t manage a dump, let alone run one of the most important institutions in a region he has no connection to and holds its most precious commodity - the supporters - in utter disdain.

A caller to BBC Radio Newcastle this week said he apparently received a phone call from Methven after sending in a critical email to the club. Rather than take it on the chin, Charlie told him he would rather have 5,000 diehards than 45,000 moaners attending the game and that he should find something else to do on a Saturday afternoon. Now that story may or may not be true, who knows - but if it is, he would do well to take his own advice.

God I’d love it if Charlie rang me, we’d have such a lovely chat.

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