Lee Johnson sends apology to Sunderland supporters

Lee Johnson apologised to the Sunderland support and said the club's 6-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers was the worst moment of his footballing career.

The head coach insisted he still believed he could oversee a promotion campaign this season but said his side had fallen 'unbelievably short' in all aspects of their performance.

Sunderland were fortunate still to be in the game at half time after a wretched first 45 left them trailing 2-0, but their performance got even worse as the hosts added four more in the second half.

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It was not Sunderland's first heavy defeat on the road this season, beaten 5-1 by Rotherham United and 3-0 by Sheffield Wednesday last year.

Sunderland fell to a humiliating defeat against Bolton Wanderers

Johnson conceded his side looked to have a soft underbelly as they folded meekly against Ian Evatt's side.

"I think words are cheap," Johnson said.

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"I've got to start with an apology and it is a sincere one, because it's the worst feeling I've had in football, in 20-odd years as a player and as a manager.

"I felt we'd prepared well but we played into their hands very early, and their gameplan was extremely well executed.

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"We were off it right from the very first play, we were prancing, we looked posy and it played into their aggressive pressing game.

"Neither side got too much play going early on, and it was a tale of two goalkeepers kicking out of play which was frustrating.

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"We have fallen unbelievably short just in every facet of the game.

"We did have a soft underbelly today.

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"We have had some great away wins but today I can't argue with that, it's absolutely right. It looked like we had a soft underbelly, particularly the fifth and sixth goals.

"We will have to call out some truths. It's a big shock to me this performance, I genuinely did not see it coming."

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Johnson said he believed the players were 'genuinely embarrassed' in the dressing room afterwards, but insisted that this latest implosion had not changed his belief that they were capable of securing a return to the Championship.

"It was pretty numb [in the dressing room]," Johnson said.

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"I think the players were genuinely embarassed. I went through a range of emotions, to be honest.

"I'm hurting on a personal level.

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"I've got to show that I still believe in them because I do.

"I've seen what they can do when they're at it and I know that we are improving our squad. I know it's very difficult to double down on that after a performance like today but we are and we have."

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Johnson denied his players had 'given up' in the closing stages and said he would have to take responsibility for the way they were undone by Bolton.

"I don't think we gave up," he said.

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"I think everyone has had really poor games, we looked disjointed and disorganised in that 20 minutes.

"They were leaving our centre backs on the ball and we were playing straight into their hands, allowing them to nick it.

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"I still believe in these players.

"I have to take responsibility today, it hurts, but I have to because part of my job is to get the boys tactically and mentally focused. I believed we had done, but we clearly hadn't and that's on me.

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"I still believe [I can deliver promotion], I still believe we can go and get some important wins and bounce back very quickly.

"But I do need to consider [today], so that critcism is fair and justified. I'll take it on the chin and try to come out a better manager."

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Over 5,000 fans made the journey to the North West, creating an outstanding atmosphere in the opening stages.

Johnson said his side had 'failed to match it', adding that his team had also let down the Academy of Light staff.

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"We had an unbelievable following," he said.

"They were right up for it, right from the start.

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"Our players just didn't match it, and it left it pretty sombre after that third goal went in and rightly so.

"All we can do is endeavour to provide what everybody wants so much, with his promotion.

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"I feel sorry for our staff [as well], the people at the AoL work so hard because of their love of the football club.

"They don't deserve it and the fans don't deserve it.

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"Moving forward we have got to be stronger, we have got to be mentally stronger and we have to do the basics better. We didn't implement one part of our game that has been successful this year.

"It's happened on two or three occasions, you can have one but we've had three or four and that's difficult to take."

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Though Sunderland remain just one point off the top two, Wigan Athletic’s point advantage also comes with four games-in-hand.

Rotherham United’s win at Crewe Alexandra also moved them two points clear of the Black Cats, having played two games less than Johnson’s side.