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Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship

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Poor form and self-inflicted mistakes are harming Sunderland’s prospects

“There’s a perfect storm raging on Wearside, with underwhelming results being compounded by avoidable errors, and it’s making for an uncomfortable experience,” writes Phil West.

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When the highly-rated Fabio Carvalho (a player seemingly coveted by Sunderland fans before he made a recent loan switch to Hull) volleyed the Tigers into a lead that they subsequently converted into a victory during Friday’s dispiriting televised clash at the Stadium of Light, the prevailing mood afterwards seemed to be one of ‘this was coming’.

We barely fired a shot in anger against Liam Rosenior’s depleted visitors, and coupled with a formation and tactical approach that left us alarmingly narrow in attack and lacking any real cutting edge despite the best efforts of the tenacious Nazariy Rusyn, the defeat was no surprise.

There had been tension and unease in the air for the majority of the game and by the time the final whistle blew, it finally reached boiling point, with Michael Beale the subject of countless verbal barbs as those still inside the stadium vented their fury.

It wasn’t pleasant and in some ways, it felt like a nasty throwback to the dog days of League One, to a time when joy was in short supply- even though we’ve undoubtedly moved on from that turbulent period.

To say that Sunderland’s new head coach has divided opinion is an understatement, but the harsh reality is that since Beale took charge, there’s been no significant upswing in the standard of our performances, and results have been equally average.

Bar the first half against Preston and some brief flashes of excitement during the Boxing Day trip to Hull, it’s tough to highlight any real moments of promise, and judging by what we saw on Friday night, it’s also difficult to ignore the creeping worry that the players either aren’t listening to what he’s saying, or that they simply aren’t fully invested in his approach.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Replacing a veteran of over eight hundred games in management with someone who doesn’t possess a CV of any real distinction and whose reputation for bombastic and often empty talk can’t be ignored was a huge risk.

Thus far, there’s absolutely no sign of it paying off and the upcoming games against Stoke City (thankfully now without the added worry of the ‘Alex Neil factor’) and Middlesbrough, who could’ve already booked a trip to Wembley by the time we play them, really could be make or break territory for Beale.

Perhaps 2023/2024 was always going to be more of a challenge after the exciting and unpredictable campaign that preceded it, during which we mounted a playoff challenge that few might’ve seen coming, with a young squad guided by an experienced and respected head coach giving the fans plenty to shout about.

The current season hasn’t hit those heights, but finding the going slightly tougher on the pitch the second time around isn’t necessarily a deal breaker in itself.

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

Fluctuating form is simply part and parcel of football and it’s important to remember that this is a talented, committed and honest group of players who’ve currently lost their way, and all you can do is hope that Beale can somehow turn things around and oversee a revival.

However, when you consider what’s happening on the pitch and set it against the backdrop of the off-field shenanigans that have been on the agenda for some time, it’s led to a thoroughly unpleasant situation that few might’ve seen coming.

From the botched attempt to find a comparable or superior replacement for Mowbray to the as-yet unresolved Black Cats’ Bar fiasco, the ongoing problems with customer service and the lack of January signings at the time of writing, the club have dug themselves into a hole of their own making and are now desperately trying to recover lost ground.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

It’s an unarguable fact that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is currently under more pressure and is the subject of more mistrust than at any other time since he arrived at the club.

However, despite the mistakes that have been made, demanding that he sells up and passes ownership of Sunderland to someone else (of which there are already murmurings that will grow stronger if we’re not promoted this season) is a hazardous angle to pursue.

At this moment in time, Championship clubs simply aren’t being purchased by individuals or consortiums who are awash with cash, and the idea that a Silicon Valley heavyweight is spinning his globe and targeting Sunderland AFC as his next investment is borderline fantasy.

Another point to consider is that clubs at this level are often ripe to be snapped up by unscrupulous characters, and there’s no guarantee that we’d find a ‘golden ticket’ to the promised land should Dreyfus decide to move on.

The upshot is that with less than two weeks of the January window left, the club finds itself at a crossroads.

Defeats can be dealt with, but when a club continuously shoots itself in the foot, either through poor judgement, arrogance or detachment from the mood on the terraces, it’s difficult to accept.

Goodwill needs to be restored and trust needs to be rebuilt. It’s not impossible, but the longer these issues are allowed to go unaddressed, the stronger the tide against which they’re swimming will grow and the less chance they’ve got of ever getting the fanbase fully back onside.

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