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'Typical Sunderland' as the Black Cats shoot themselves in the foot again
Full-time: Sunderland 0 Hull City 2
STANDING outside the press room that was once his domain, it was left to former Sunderland manager Steve Bruce to provide a succinct summation of events.
“Sunderland were flying, but in my experience with it, there is always something around the corner,” he said. “Okay, they win the derby 3-0 and get to a cup final, but what is going to happen next? Is that typical Sunderland? Is that the history of Sunderland? Can I say that?”
Given his own experiences of the Black Cats' topsy-turvy existence, the current Hull City boss probably can. 'Typical Sunderland'. You take a series of crucial steps forward, only to do everything in your power to make a crashing return to square one.
Buoyed by their Tyne-Wear derby win and relishing being in their highest league position of the season, Sunderland kicked off against Hull riding a wave of optimism that should have carried them comfortably clear of the relegation zone.
Three minutes later, however, and their entire afternoon had unravelled. Phil Bardsley produced a brain-dead back-pass that presented Shane Long with a clear run on goal, and Wes Brown careered into a senseless last-ditch tackle that left Long crumpled in a heap and prompted referee Mike Jones to reach for a straight red card.
Game plan redundant; another three points gone. Long opened the scoring when he glanced home Jake Livermore's shot in the 17th minute, and Nikica Jelavic doubled Hull's lead when he headed Maynor Figueroa's deflected shot past Vito Mannone midway through the second half.
Ultimately, though, it was Bardsley and Brown's recklessness that proved Sunderland's undoing, and left them just a point and a place above the relegation zone ahead of a run of three successive Premier League away games that will take them to Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
“Football is always tight at the bottom and one action can define the game,” said Gustavo Poyet. “Today, we gave that opportunity to Hull.
Adam Johnson surges forward – he was watched by England coach Roy Hodgson
“The accident was unexpected, but unexpected things happen. Who was expecting that result between Arsenal and Liverpool? That's football.
“We will not kill ourselves over this. I am not trying to think about this game too much because it was not our normal game. I will not kill myself analysing this match.”
Fair enough, although Poyet's reluctance to delve too deeply into his side's eighth home defeat of a thoroughly erratic campaign ignores two key issues. The first is that this is far from the first time Sunderland have shot themselves in the foot this season; the second is that they still had 87 minutes in which to repair the damage at the weekend and were singularly unable to do so.
Let's start with the first point, with Saturday's red card taking Sunderland's tally for the season to six, one of which was later rescinded. Incredibly, three of those have come against Hull, and just as damningly, three have been waved in Brown's face, even though he had only picked up one in his first 254 Premier League games prior to this season.
“Does that make us a dirty team?” questioned Poyet after the game. “I don't think it does so I am not looking for something that is not there.”
The Uruguayan is right, Sunderland are not an inherently dirty team. But they increasingly appear to be an ill-disciplined one, or at least one that is incapable of making the right decisions in high-pressure situations. And in the crucial phase of a relegation battle, that can be just as costly.
Bardsley's error undoubtedly left Brown in a no-win situation, but what on earth did the highly-experienced centre-half think he was going to achieve by leaping into such an ill-conceived challenge?
He was never going to win the ball, and was always going to be sent off as a result. Admittedly, it's an easy thing to say in hindsight, but why didn't he close in on Long to put pressure on him and gamble on Mannone saving the striker's shot?
Jack Colback and Hull’s Tom Huddlestone go up for the ball
Best-case scenario, the score would have remained goalless and Sunderland would still have had 11 men on the field. Worst-case scenario, they would have fallen a goal behind, but still have had more than 85 minutes in which to retrieve things with a full complement of players. Either way, they would have been better off than they were.
Brown's late dismissal against Norwich was equally ridiculous, as was John O'Shea's at Crystal Palace and both Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena's in the away game at Hull. Poyet might want to brush the issue under the carpet, but Sunderland have developed an alarming habit for making life harder than it ought to be.
November's game at the KC Stadium saw the Black Cats play the entire second half with nine men, yet they almost snatched a point when Adam Johnson raced clean through on Steve Harper.
They had a man extra on Saturday, yet were comprehensively outplayed from the minute Brown departed. It is undoubtedly a disadvantage to have just ten men, but there are plenty of examples of teams making a much better fist of things than the Wearsiders managed despite facing a Hull side who had won just one of their previous 11 league matches.
Many of their struggles stemmed from Jozy Altidore, who was unable to maintain the improvement he displayed against Newcastle as he produced an insipid performance that was resonant of so many of his early-season displays.
To succeed with ten men, you need your striker to boast the strength and technical proficiency required to retain possession under pressure, and the mobility needed to work the channels and pull opposition defenders out of position.
Altidore did neither, rarely straying from the centre circle as he afforded Johnson precious little in the way of support and hold-up play. Instead of sacrificing Fabio Borini in order to introduce Santiago Vergini, might Poyet have been better to play the energetic Italian up front?
Johnson produced Sunderland's best moment, a stinging first-half volley that was saved by Harper, but it proved a frustrating afternoon for the winger, who was unable to impress watching England boss Roy Hodgson.
Sunderland’s players troop back after Shane Long put Hull ahead
“I am sure Roy knows enough about football to realise that he had to play in a different position because he was needed there,” said Poyet. “Maybe he will have to come back to see him play in a normal game.”
A normal game? As Bruce can attest, Sunderland don't play in many of those.
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