Mackems' slump deepens but defeat has upside

Posted by Colin Randall

So much for the big plan. At Salut! Sunderland, on the Black Cats e-mail list to which I belong and even to the bloke at a London swimming pool whose daughter was wearing a Sunderland top, I made consistently pessimistic noises.

Sunderland would be beaten at Everton.

I did not forecast a trouncing, though there have been more than enough of those at Goodison, but offered no attempt to seem remotely upbeat.

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At half-time, it appeared to be working. The players had reason to celebrate a decent away performance capped by Adam Johnson giving his and everyone else's confidence a huge boost by sweeping a cross home just before the whistle for the interval.

"Keep up the good earlier movement, don't make the usual mistake of defending too deep," I caught myself thinking in my imaginary halftime team talk. I should have guessed the advice would be ignored. Sunderland were still vastly better in the second half than at home to Aston Villa last week, but allowed Everton to exert more pressure and, yes, defended more deeply.

The ball just kept on going back to men in blue and the equaliser came as no surprise.

It was no scramble. Marouane Fellaini's shot from the edge of the box sped past a crowd of defenders and was far too good for his Belgian compatriot, Simon Mignolet. Two minutes later, he set up Nikica Jelavic for the winner. Thereafter, Sunderland never looked like salvaging a point.

On Twitter later, there was recognition that this had been a largely commendable display. There were even hints of self-belief, especially in the first half, and Sunderland might have been two up after 10 minutes and three up before Johnson finally scored. Everton also had plenty of chances, so it is perhaps unrealistic to suggest the result was defeat snatched from victory's jaws. On the other hand, leaving Goodison without a point at all was harsh.

There have also been a few more "O'Neill out" messages since the final whistle. Only a few. I still haven't seen much clamour for his dismissal but unhappiness and unease are inevitable given that Sunderland have won only one game this season and are now in deepish trouble with an even tougher away game, at Fulham next Sunday, to endure before next getting a chance to improve on the poor home record.

Without yet having heard O'Neill's post-match appraisal, or received his customary e-mail, I can safely guarantee the word "disappointment", or a derivative, will appear somewhere in them.

He will be an awful lot more disappointed, and thousands of Sunderland supporters with him, if failure to gain a draw at Craven Cottage leaves his team under wretched pressure for what would then be utterly must-win home games against West Brom and QPR.

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