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Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: Is Sunderland’s season on the brink?

Sunderland start to sleepwalk into midtable obscurity as Stoke make it through to judge's houses - what was the midfield selection all about, and is Mowbray learning from his mistakes? Bomber gives his thoughts...

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield Selection

Tony Mowbray gave us something to talk about before a ball was even kicked! At 2pm, he released a team sheet with Roberts, Diallo, Clarke, Gelhardt and Pritchard in it. This sent chins wagging across the Stadium of Light with the suggestion that Pritch was going to be paired with Dan Neil as the midfield two.

Many of our downfalls this season have been against opposition that have been physically bigger and in our faces, so seeing that with the arrival of Stoke (an infamously physical, in-your-face team) in an emotionally charged game spelled disaster for many fans in the ground.

Smallbone and Laurent had the better of Neil and Pritchard in both size and stature, and despite it looking in the early stages of the game, the Stoke goal came from their central players. Dan Neil was unable to get ahead of Smallbone to make a challenge and Pritchard unable to stop the run or keep up with Laurent - who ultimately finished off Smallbone’s cutback.

O’Nien coming at half time was 45 minutes too late but not in a position where we really could have done with him, meaning it was more of the same in the second half with Michut partnering Neil.

All-in-all the battle was lost all game in the middle of the park and it pretty much sums up our midfield performance.

If you were fortunate enough to miss the match, the fact that we have made Smallbone look like bloody Andres Pirlo says all you need to know.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Laurent and Smallbone physically dominated Neil and Pritchard in the first half.
Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

A pat on the back for Jack...

The result and ultimately the team performance is quite embarrassing, but I do think we should carve out a little bit of praise for Jack Clarke.

Ki-Jana Hoever was given a crash course in the ability of Jack Clarke very early on in the first half and was absolutely petrified of him for the rest of the game.

He terrorised Hoever and was at the sharp end of any fleeting moment of positivity for the lads. A couple of penalty shouts that didn't go his way but nonetheless, he was direct and attacked the fullback at any opportunity.

If we had another four or five players match his endeavour there might have been the very slightest of chances of getting something from the game.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Was Jack Clarke the only player to come away from the Stoke game with any credit?
Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Alex Neil’s school of Performing Arts

In preparation for the trip to the Stadium of Light, the Stoke manager must have taken the squad for a week at RADA. Stoke’s plan was to break up any rhythm or pace in the first half and they used the whole repertoire... We saw double-rolls, triple-rolls, and phantom leg injuries amongst other miracle recoveries.

It’s not an excuse for the performance or result, but anytime we looked to build up a head of steam and put a bit of pressure on, a different Stoke player saw it as their opportunity to get one of Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer moments.

Even at 4-1 up and 20 minutes to play there were still players going down with injuries to anything and everything - including their boots!

The tactic did the job, but it really was quite pathetic to watch.

Introducing the Alex Neil School of Performing Arts!

A gift (or FOUR) for Stoke!

The first goal while disappointing was not an embarrassment. The other four goals (no... I can’t quite believe I’ve had to say that either) were really quite pathetic from a Sunderland perspective.

For their second, a poor free-kick from Pritchard cut out followed by Dan Neil getting robbed as last man on the halfway line.

Their third... Luke O’Nien’s terrible heavy touch is nicked in a dangerous area and Stoke are 3v2.

Stoke scored their 4th after Dan Neil stood ball watching whilst Morgan Fox walked to pick up the second ball from a corner, forcing a really quite smart save from Patterson, but three Sunderland defenders stood there to watch Gayle tap in the rebound.

And lastly, Patterson helps us forget about the great save he made by getting completely nowhere near a ball he should never have come for, essentially leaving the goal gaping for a 5th.

Does the fact we weren't outclassed by Stoke despite our own poor performance mean anything? Do we brush it off as four individual mistakes and use it to mitigate the result?

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship
Mowbray just as enraged as the rest of us at the pathetic goals we conceded yesterday.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

What does this now mean for the season?

The Stoke defeat for me puts the penultimate nail in the coffin for our season. We currently occupy 10th place, four places and six points from the playoffs.

The optimists will look at the table with 11 games to go and suggest that six points is a deficit that is very “gettable”... and without context it is. However, the current state of play is that our next four see us visit Norwich and Burnley, with home games against Sheffield United and Luton sandwiched in between.

“ALAS!” The optimist cries, “A perfect chance to get back amongst it! With all four teams occupying the top six currently that is true... the cliché of ‘Beat the teams around you’ is just as true in a playoff battle as it is a relegation scrap. However on current form, going into that run of games on the back of three poor performances to accompany our three successive defeats, there is no evidence other than blind faith that we will get any points from the next four games - let alone beat the teams around us.


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