Owner? Manager? Players? Who is to blame for Sunderland’s dire plight?

Sunderland owner Ellis Short, alongside Martin Bain
Sunderland owner Ellis Short, alongside Martin Bain

David Moyes could have been forgiven for taking a moment during the defeat to Manchester United to ponder just how his management career had come to this.

From the high of being appointed Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor in May 2013 to the low of this campaign, which is surely set to end with Sunderland’s relegation.

Sunderland, without a goal in seven games, are 10 points adrift with just seven games remaining.

The Black Cats, who haven’t been out of the relegation zone since early September, have spent 219 days out of 240 in the bottom three and been bottom for 147 days in total – damning statistics.

Fans are understandably angry, frustrated and fed-up with a season which has lurched from one crisis to the next, but where does the blame lie?

Ellis Short:

The owner’s appearances have been rare this season but he has watched the last two home games from the director’s box.

Short, who appointed chief executive Martin Bain and Moyes last summer, has come under criticism from fans unhappy with the way the club has been run and the level of investment in recent years.

Sunderland spent £27.12million last summer – the 10th highest net spend – but that money wasn’t all up front with some deals spread over several years.

Short will point to the fact he has bankrolled Sunderland since he took charge, investing more than £200m of his own cash.

Yet with gates of 40,000+ and the riches of the Premier League, it is embarrassing Sunderland finds itself in debt of around £140million.

Before Patrick van Aanholt’s departure, 46 players had been bought and sold since 2009 yet Sunderland had only made a profit on three – a major failing and a big factor behind the debt which restricted spending power this year.

Short is keen to sell should a suitable offer come forward but the relegation battle hasn’t helped and a big financial readjustment will be due in the Championship with help needed from the owner.

David Moyes:

Moyes has come under increasing pressure, not helped by three defeats in a week that leaves Sunderland 10 points from safety and destined for the drop.

Most managers would have expected their P45s having overseen 21 defeats in 31 games but Moyes was signed for the long-term and he retains the backing of Short while he has already said he won’t walk away.

In mitigation, Moyes could point to the injury list that has restricted his options or the financial constraints that limited his spending last summer and in January.

But those issues aside, Moyes – who was a universally popular choice last summer – has still fallen short this season.

Too negative at times, questions have also been asked of his team selection and tactics. The reasons behind Didier Ndong’s brief exile from the first team for two winnable games didn’t really stack up.

Meanwhile, the likes of Fabio Borini and Adnan Januzaj have been given more chances than most yet failed to deliver while Wahbi Khazri continues to be benched every week.

Sunderland can’t continue with their policy of sacking managers as while it has helped in the short term in previous seasons, long-term it does more harm than good. This season Sunderland are paying the price.

Relegation will hurt Moyes’ pride and he faces the biggest job of his career to rebuild Sunderland. A summer overhaul is on the cards and he needs to be backed financially, while also offering a more positive outlook.

The players:

Yes, Sunderland have been badly affected by injuries with a whole team missing at one stage. But there can be no question the team has underperformed.

Sunderland have one of the best goalkeepers and strikers in Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe – both of who are free from blame.

Key players including Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff have missed large chunks but too many other players have simply not performed.

Lamine Kone, Borini, Jack Rodwell, Papy Djilobodji, Januzaj are among those to disappoint.

21 defeats is a shocking record. The team hasn’t scored in seven games. Teams finish where they deserve to.

With so many factors at play relegation can’t be pinned one on person and ultimately, what is clear is that the blame game won’t help anyone.

With the club’s chances of staying up diminishing, Sunderland need to look to the future and plan for life in the Championship.

It is an unforgiving league. Newcastle United will bounce back at the first attempt but just look at Aston Villa and Norwich City.

There is no guarantee Sunderland will come straight back up. To stand a chance of doing so, the club needs to learn from the mistakes on and off the field from this and past seasons – and fast.