x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bright lights of success are dimming at Sunderland

Rumours of Martin O'Neill offering his resignation may have been denied but the poor form of the north east side cannot be.

Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill. Scott Heppell / AP Photo
Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill. Scott Heppell / AP Photo

Sunderland have spent most of the last two days denying that Martin O'Neill offered to resign after Saturday's 4-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion.

Perhaps he did make the offer - Sunderland have, after all, won only two of their last 20 Premier League games, and both against sides reduced to 10 men - but at the final whistle on Saturday there was no thought that a change of manager was either imminent or advisable.

The striking thing is that there was no booing at the final whistle. There seems a general acceptance that O'Neill remains the best realistic candidate for the job. There is none of the anger or weariness that usually precede a dismissal or resignation.

There is frustration, of course, but Sunderland actually played relatively well on Saturday. They created chances but lost, ultimately, because they let in two soft goals in the first half.

In isolation, the game would not be cause for concern.

And that is true of pretty much every game this season. While a handful of performances have been substandard, only the 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa stands out as a truly poor result.

In fact, Sunderland are two points better off this season than in the equivalent fixtures last season. To an extent, they have been a victim of the fixture list.

While West Brom have now played all of the bottom six, Sunderland, thanks to the postponement of the home game against Reading, went into Saturday's match having played only one of those half dozen sides and having played only four of 11 games at home.

It is not to diminish West Brom's achievements to say that they have been allowed to build a momentum that Sunderland have not.

Logically, of course, Sunderland should benefit from easier fixtures later in the season, but football is not necessarily logical - and Sunderland certainly are not.

They have a self-perpetuating habit of getting on bad runs - the 19-point season, the 15-point season, the 108-day spell under Steve Bruce without a win, the three wins in 20 games at the end of 2002/03.

The trauma of those spates of ineptitude creates an anxiety that haunts the club. Fans expect the worst and that transmits itself to players.

And that is why the next month, in which Sunderland play four teams in the bottom six, is vital.

Lose tonight to a Queens Park Rangers side without a win so far this season, but under their new manager Harry Redknapp, and the negativity could become overwhelming.

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