Phil Smith analysis: Sunderland need much more after another poor show
Welcome to 2018.
For Sunderland, it looks rather depressingly like 2017.
They arrived at the Stadium of Light on the back of an away win that had boosted morale, but it quickly flatlined.
Barnsley were sharper in every department yesterday, leaving Chris Coleman ‘scratching his head’.
Sunderland were, he said, a different team to the one he had seen at the City Ground three days earlier.
It was a familiar refrain and a conundrum that has plagued many managers before him.
In the aftermath of defeat, the mood only worsened.
Coleman confirmed that Darron Gibson is likely to be ‘out for some time’.
That came as little surprise given that the 30-year-old had looked inconsolable as he headed down the tunnel soon after the half hour mark.
The Irishman has become an utterly pivotal player under the new manager and yesterday he had dragged them back into the contest.
Sunderland had started the game appallingly, but Gibson had shown the necessary composure to settle his team-mates, showing a strong range of passing to ask questions of the Barnsley defence.
Without him, they offered alarmingly little on the ball.
Paddy McNair, understandably, is miles off the pace at the moment and so, when Sunderland switched to a midfield four in the second half, they were always at risk of being overrun.
The Sunderland boss has no real alternative in his squad and the situation may yet affect his transfer planning for an utterly crucial month. Jonny Williams remains six weeks away from fitness.
All over the pitch he has problems.
Players have played above themselves in some games under his charge, but, predictably, finding consistency is a struggle for his young players and too many of them had an off- day against the Tykes.
It was too easy for Barnsley to force them into giving the ball away, killing time at every opportunity and breaking with real purpose.
The Black Cats never looked like scoring, as the manager himself admitted, just as it had been in the final 20 minutes against Birmingham City recently, when the visitors were reduced to 10 men and they held on comfortably for a 1-1 draw.
That is a serious concern and is clear that Sunderland have a real problem at home when the onus is on then to be purposeful in possession and set the tempo.
The dearth of quality in attacking areas is a real problem and yet, in Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman, they have two experienced and fairly expensive acquisitons who are underperforming.
That neatly surmises us the difficult situation Coleman faces.
He does not have a small squad and he most certainly does not have a cheap one in terms of wages, making it difficult to make significant changes without moving players on.
Yet he desperately needs an injection of pace and creativity.
Another game gifted away. The goal was ‘criminal’, in Coleman’s own words.
Just moments after the beginning of the second half, a corner from Zeki Fryers was inexplicably allowed to bounce in the box and headed home by Ethan Pinnock.
A soft goal conceded and little created. The story of life at the Stadium of Light in 2017 and again at the start of 2018.
If there is any consolation it is that under Coleman, the squad have bounced back from defeats quickly and perhaps a visit to off-form Cardiff (on January 14) will again present the kind of game that suits them, able to sit deep and contain.
By then, Coleman will hope he has new additions.
He needs them.