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Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship

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After Saturday’s horror show, Sunderland need to try something different - immediately!

After two defeats on the bounce, Sunderland’s problems increased with a 5-1 defeat to Stoke on Saturday. Finlay Anderson looks at what’s next for Tony Mowbray’s side and how they can

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Well, no one expected this outcome, did they?

After the return of Alex Neil, this was arguably the worst possible turn of events at the Stadium of Light, as he had the last laugh.

For Sunderland, this was by far the worst performance of our campaign so far, and then some. There also couldn’t have been a worse time for a 1-5 battering.

Neil got one over on his former side, former Magpie Dwight Gayle netted a brace, and on a day when a crowd of over 43,000 was attracted to the Stadium of Light, their support wasn’t repaid on the pitch.

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

After a draw against Bristol City and defeats to Rotherham and Coventry, a week off for the team to recover was viewed as a positive but on reflection, it seems that those results have had a damaging effect on the players.

There were poor performances right across the park on Saturday.

The idea seemed a like a positive one, but the midfield partnership of Dan Neil and Alex Pritchard didn’t work; Amad wasn’t himself yet again, and we were simply too slow in key areas, meaning it was so easy for Stoke to counter.

These are issues that have been simmering during the last couple of weeks, but were exposed clinically by the Potters.

Was this due to Neil clueing his players up on Sunderland’s weaknesses? Probably, but we didn’t do ourselves any favours with our own performance.

The main issue now is that we don’t allow this dreadful run to continue for much longer.

After last season’s promotion from League One, we’ve arguably competed higher than expected in our first season back in the second tier, but as Mowbray addressed upon his arrival, there would also be ‘dark days’ during the season.

Without a doubt, Saturday was one of the darkest days we’ve experienced since the 6-0 thrashing against Bolton last year.

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

We now have another week before next Sunday’s lunchtime match against Norwich City, and the seven days that lie ahead are some of the biggest that Mowbray has faced on Wearside so far.

The criticism of the head coach will increase after this result, but after a 1-5 loss, it’s only natural and the response on the pitch is even more important.

I’d imagine that Mowbray needs to make alterations for the trip to Norfolk.

Something needs to change, whether it’s a mentality issue, a confidence boost, personnel, or tactically.

We also need a different option in the centre of the park, and Mowbray faces a dilemma as to whether Dan Neil needs a rest from the starting eleven, or if he simply needs a different midfield partner.

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

However, the most significant talking point lies in attack, and exactly what Mowbray does with Joe Gelhardt.

Post-match, he admitted that the Leeds loanee was removed at the interval for confidence reasons and the need to protect him from an even bigger dip.

Of course he has to persevere with him, but how does he get Gelhardt firing?

These are questions that’ll be asked as we wait for the Norwich game- a gap which will feel longer than usual, with the game to be played on Sunday afternoon due to television commitments.

The simple fact is that Sunderland need some sort of response.

Saturday was nowhere near good enough and on the back of a frustrating week, the next step on the journey this season becomes even more pivotal.


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