After a chastening defeat away at Bolton, Sunderland responded the only way they possibly could - another woeful defeat. After talk last week regarding the severity of a defeat that cost Lee Johnson his job being the worst in our history, Saturday's result must have equaled or bettered that.
When you write these pieces, you attempt to be balanced and fair in assessment, but today is not that day. On Saturday Sunderland were woeful and quite frankly, every player bar Clarke, Defoe and Matete - whose cameos were brief and ineffectual - should hang their heads in shame.
If being beaten by a mid-table team away from home in the manner we did last week was unacceptable, I dread to think of how our reaction to such a defeat as Saturday's ranks. As the sacking of Johnson represented somewhat of a gamble, it was telling that such a gamble would fall flat on its face just as the gamble to continue playing during a covid outbreak did - a gamble that upon reflection provided the catalyst to what now feels like a season falling apart at it seams. Two gambles taken, no tangible benefit delivered thus far.
As a result of this gamble, we were left in the hands of Mike Dodds, whereby a chunk of this defeat does lay squarely at the feet of the interim head coach (?), who failed to show the levels of tactical acumen or motivational skills required by a Sunderland coach honoured with standing on the touchline. In a season that seems to have been defined by gambles, it was Dodds’ complete lack of them that boggled the mind, instead largely trusting a team that were chastened last week to appropriately respond - of which they failed to do.
With a lack of changes to the side before and during the game, as well as a tactical shape that remained bereft of any ideas or nuance, Dodds’ unwillingness to take the game to the worst side in the division was alarming, to say the least.
As Sunderland started the game completely void of momentum, we slowly regressed as the narrowness of our attack saw us unable to firmly park ourselves on the edge of Doncaster’s area - opinions on Johnson aside, this sort of start would have rarely happened under his command, let alone on this day of all days.
I firmly believe the least said about Dodds’ performance the better, but his persistence with the ever-failing Gooch and the removal of Dan Neil to make way for the player specifically signed to compliment him only served to highlight how out of his depth he found himself. This is no doubt highlighted by his comments post-match, in which he claimed he “didn’t see that result coming” despite making a solitary change to a team that were hammered 6-0 the week before.
As for the players themselves, there is no excuse. To respond to last week with such a meek performance is utterly unacceptable - and may god help them should Roy Keane walk through the door in the near future. The levels of performance on Saturday was an actual insult to fans who had turned out in their droves to support the club during a tumultuous time, who would have been better served and less offended if the players collectively refused to play.
Regardless of what has occurred behind the scenes in the last week or so, there is absolutely no reason nor rhyme as to why such performances should occur once a season, let alone twice in seven days. From the off the performance was one of fear and gutlessness. When the pressure came on, every player bar none wilted under it and no man on that field, especially the captain, showed the heart or desire to dig Sunderland out of the abysmal situation they found themselves in.
Say what you wish about Cattermole, Leadbitter, and Power, but at least as captains they showed fight and a willingness to dig in when things got tough - Evans on the other hand, did not. To be a Sunderland captain, you have to show far more heart and desire than he has in recent weeks, and whilst this is a non-negotiable trait for a Sunderland captain, it should also be expected of every player who wears the red and white - something this week that has not been apparent.
What is to happen now is anyone's guess, as the club stumbles onto Cheltenham away - quite possibly without a manager and instead with an incapable coach. The overarching issue facing KLD and Speakman is the corner they’ve backed themselves into - and the only other man in the room is Roy Keane.
Right now there is little choice, or argument against, appointing Roy Keane - especially after such a spineless and gutless performance. However, the plans for a short-term appointment and the supposed boost that would be provided until the end of the season should be cast firmly to one side, with the season looking to be heading to the play-offs *at best* there is now no “short term” option.
Any manager from this point forth should find themselves in a situation where they are given appropriate time to firstly turn this side around should they sustain any chance of reaching the play-offs but also a fair crack at the season after. So slim do our chances of promotion appear and feel, it would be wholly unfair to make any incoming managers remit to be solely focused around promotion in the immediate.
Hamstringing them is of course the fact that no manager at this juncture would be as palatable as Keane and rightly so, as the establishment of improved standards being required at the club has not been as apparent as it has been in the last week.
Regardless of how this week has transpired, there can be no excuse and no player should be left under any illusion that anything they have shown us the last week is anything near acceptable. As fans, we have turned out in numbers only seen in the Premier League and spent our hard-earned money in a time where the cost of living is stretching us all, some to breaking point. And for our reward to be such spineless, heartless performances - players unwilling to show fight or the determination of which this club is built simply can not and should not be tolerated.
If this writing is ever to be seen by any of the players, I make no apology. As a fan, the past week has left us all embarrassed and angry, and those players should be too. There is no skirting around the fact that these players and staff have collectively overseen our two worst results - arguably in our club's history, and for that, they should be ashamed.
Where we go from here, only God knows, but as our season seems to be destined to end in a play-off push - the very minimum we should see from this point forth is effort, heart, and desire. If those three things cannot be found come Tuesday, then we have issues, especially if Keane is not the elixir.