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Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Two Down, Two Further Down: Sunderland hammered by Stoke on a truly dismal afternoon

Alex Neil’s return to the Stadium of Light ended in an absolute demolition job as the Potters cruised to a 1-5 victory. What did our writers make of the game?

Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says...

What the hell was that?

I’m normally at the positive end of the scale but even I’m struggling as to where to start with that one.

I don’t think anybody saw this coming, not least the Stoke City fans, who probably can’t believe their luck.

Many of them seemed to start the day wanting Alex Neil out, and yet they came away looking like world-beaters.

From one extreme to the other

When things are going well at Sunderland, we’re like a juggernaut, but I’ve always felt that it goes the other way quickly too, and once one thing goes wrong, it spreads quickly.

In the space of a fortnight, all the things that were going for us have disappeared. We barely looked capable of passing or keeping hold of the ball at times, and we’ve suddenly started conceding sloppy goals.

We couldn’t even test the substitute goalkeeper before he’d had the chance to settle, and then it was a case of one thing after another as we either made things worse for ourselves or Stoke twisted the knife.

The third goal summed it up for me, as we blocked the initial shot and then the lad hit a cracker.

You can bet that had we been playing well, it would’ve flown wide, but we’re in a position where nothing is going right and if we don’t stop the rot, the situation will only snowball.

The players are probably shellshocked right now, so it’s time to batten down the hatches and ride this out.

More horrific officiating

Many of the issues on Saturday were of our own making, but the refereeing performance can’t go unchecked either.

I know it’s easy to point the finger at officials after a bad result, but I think we can separate the two factors here.

I’m honestly perplexed at how any referee can get to this level and not be wise to gamesmanship and tricks, or to even seem keen to apply such different metrics when making decisions. People say they want consistency between officials, yet the same person can’t call two similar incidents the same way, never mind anything else.

If officials are unable to get issues like added time correct, then forget restarting play after an injury, because they shouldn’t be in charge of games.

I know that refs need to be respected, but I honestly don’t blame Tony Mowbray for the incident at half time.

He didn’t appear overly aggressive and assuming his language wasn’t over the top, I’ve got no problem with him wanting answers. Jeremy Simpson had no control of the game whatsoever, so he has just as many things to consider as the players.

Pet lips and acting the prick

When Alex Neil moved to Stoke, there were some that said he’d regret leaving a set of fans like ours, but on this evidence I’m not so sure that it applies to everyone.

People are entitled to behave how they want within reason, but personally, I’m sick of seeing so many flouncing out the moment the chips are down. One or two people could do with toughening up and learning how to back the side, although the real issue is the fans who think it’s okay to throw objects towards the pitch.

It doesn’t matter how frustrated you are or how agitating it is to see opposition players smirking and gesturing, launching bottles and lighters is moronic.

Those doing so are putting fans, staff and players in danger, and showing themselves to be pretty pathetic if they’re unable to deal with being at a football match.

We’re critical of away fans who do it, so it’s only right that any of our own who are guilty get pulled up too.

Those of us who stayed and sang ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ have seen bad times before and will be needed the longer this wobble goes on, but those that endanger others do nothing but bring shame and embarrassment on themselves.

It was a grim day on the pitch, made worse by a few supposed fans.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

Dan Neil struggles again

Suspect in a middle two and even worse in a solo role, Neil has struggled for a week or so now.

Although yesterday wasn’t entirely his fault, there’s no excuse for his actions in the buildup to Stoke’s second and third goals. He appears to be running on empty and as a result, his head seems to be all over the place, typified in another instance of him dawdling in possession, leading directly to a goal and not for the first time this season.

If this was ‘Football Manager’, your assistant would be recommending you always press Dan Neil, and you’d be clicking ‘add instruction’ every time.

Mistakes from Tony Mowbray

I love Mowbray more than I probably should, but this result rests solely on him.

Whilst fans have begged for a change in midfield, none of us expected the dropping of midfielder rather than adding one. Tactically, we’ve been at sixes and sevens for weeks, with Mowbray the only one unable to see a result like this coming.

He seems to be suffering from the same passion for over-indulgence and complication as some players. Sometimes less is more, but unfortunately that isn’t the case for midfielders.

Woe for Joe Gelhardt

It’s not working and it’s not his fault, either.

Since his arrival, we haven’t found a way to play to any of Gelhardt’s strengths and have reduced him to feeding off something less than scraps.

As his confidence drains before our eyes and he was unceremoniously hooked at half time, you have to wonder whether, if the plan was to not deviate from a style whose attacking focus heavily relies on a 6ft+ target man, why we didn’t do more to secure the services of Ellis Simms.

A baffling one, and all you can do is feel sorry for him.

Overconfidence from Sunderland?

For the fourth game running, I couldn’t help but feel since our stellar performances against Fulham, we’ve become a side with too much arrogance.

Rotherham perhaps typified it more than yesterday, but despite being a superior footballing side to most teams in the division, our level of fight seems to have diminished.

Being too easy to play against, too soft and with an overriding sense of players just assuming turning up should be enough has left us humbled more than once in recent weeks.

The reaction we’ve been expecting to recent results hasn't arrived and although Mowbray's fatherly approach works wonderfully when players need some light encouragement, it doesn’t appear to have a good scolding in it, which is what’s needed.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

The picture isn’t entirely negative

We didn’t start the season this way and we’ll arguably still be okay.

We have a decent team but we’ve hit a wall and we need to get over it, and there are eleven games left.

Cross everything, as we may need that.

A non-existent defence

Stoke did nothing special and scored five.

It was completely unacceptable. I walked away after going 3-0 down, and I’m pleased I did.

Midfield problems

Tony Mowbray simply isn’t learning from recent losses and cannot see what thousands of fans can- that we need some steel through the middle.

Rather than use someone like Luke O’Nien to provide that, he was brought on at left back!

It was stupid and totally lacking in tactical nous or sense.

No threat in attack

Joe Gelhardt was replaced at half time; Amad and Patrick Roberts created very little but we didn’t put someone like Isaac Lihadji on.

We just went from bad to worse. The front line which once coped quite well without Ross Stewart is faltering, and it needs sorting out.

It’s been a three-game stretch to forget, so let’s do that and hope that Mowbray can sort this rabble out.

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


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