Rotherham United 5 Sunderland 1 - This is what went wrong as Cats thrashed
Sunderland produced one of the worst performances of their time in League One in falling to a heavy defeat at promotion rivals Rotherham United.
The hosts put five past the Black Cats and in truth it could have been more, such was their utter dominance all over the pitch.
Sunderland were unable to deal with their aggressive style, constantly ceding major opportunities from the wide areas.
Ross Stewart had kept his side in it with a fine goal to leave it still poised 2-1 at the break, but a set piece goal and inexplicable red card from Aiden McGeady just minutes into the second half ended the game as any kind of contest.
It was a chastening afternoon for Lee Johnson’s side, a performance in which the visitors did not get close to matching their impressive opponents.
Sunderland came into the game knowing this would be one of their toughest tests yet, against a side in superb form and almost certain to be in the promotion mix at the end of the season.
Above and beyond that, they know their physicality and direct style would offer the kind of threat that they have not always stood up well to this season, all the more challenging after the rigours of a midweek fixture.
In the early stages it was the home side who made all the running.
Sunderland were struggling to get out, too often giving cheap set pieces away and allowing Rotherham to get high up the pitch. The first real chance came when a long throw fell to Barlaser on the edge of the box, and his well-struck volley flew over the bar.
The respite for the visitors lasted a matter of minutes.
A clever run into the channel from Ben Wiles was not picked up, and when the cross to the middle of the goal found Smith the outcome was inevitable, his header precise and into the far corner.
When Johnson’s side had another let off from a deep free kick, Hoffmann failing to gather and the header just over the bar, a collision between two Rotherham players have the head coach the chance to draw his entire side into a huddle.
The reset worked, just about.
Rotherham were adamant that twice they should have had a foul as they built another threatening attack, but the referee surprisingly waved play on. The Black Cats broke well, a clever 1-2 between Neil and McGeady allowing the former to slide in Stewart.
The striker still had much to do and did it superbly, driving into the box before firing a clever finish inside the near post.
A breathless contest continued to swing from end to end, but it was the hosts who always looked the most likely, too easily creating overloads int he wide areas.
Sunderland’s structure off the ball was unconvincing at best, the wing backs regularly able to cross from threatening areas.
The pressure told when Doyle was robbed on the left flank, Rotherham quickly working the ball towards the byline. Smith drove an excellent low cross towards the heart of the box and from there Ladapo had a simple finish.
That Sunderland almost went into the break level owed much to Stewart’s continued excellence. After winning a long ball he gathered the return pass from Dajaku and crashed an excellent effort off the inside of the post from range.
Rotherham, though, created another opening fo their own with another cross from the right, Ladapo heading wide from a matter of yards and granting Johnson’s side a significant reprieve.
At the break Johnson had seen enough, switching to a back three and bringing on Bailey Wright and Luke O’Nien.
The initial results were far from encouraging, Barlaser firing just wide from the edge of the area after more poor play from the visitors.
The pressure quickly told, Ihiekwe getting ahead of his marker from a Shane Ferguson corner and nodding in from close range to extend his side’s advantage.
The game was quickly drifting beyond Sunderland and with still more than half an hour to play it looked definitively to have been put to bed.
McGeady had taken a yellow just seconds into the half for a mistimed challenge, and saw a second when he explicably flew late into a tackle on Ogbene on the right.
The referee had no hesitation in reaching for his pocket, cementing the home side’s dominance in the game.
Sunderland couldn’t get possession, and their afternoon continued to go from bad to worse as Smith towered above Wright at the back post to make it four, another cross from the right the visitors were unable to stop.
It could have been worse, substitutes Miller and Kayode both missing excellent heading opportunities.
The fifth summed up the afternoon, Wright’s backpass stolen by Kayode as Hoffmann failed to gather. The substitute played the ball across for Ladapo, who had the simplest of finishes.
Too easy, time and time again.
Sunderland XI: Hoffmann; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin; O’Nien, Neil; Dajaku, Embleton, McGeady; Stewart
Subs: Burge, Evans, Alves, O’Brien, Gooch, Wright, Wearne
Rotherham United XI: Vickers; Edmonds-Green, Ihiekwe, Harding; Ogbene (Sadlier, 74), Barlaser, Rathbone, Wiles, Ferguson (Miller, 74); Smith (Kayode, 74), Ladapo
Subs: Johansson, Wood, Bola, Odoffin
Bookings: O’Nien, 37 McGeady, 45 Evans, 63 Ferguson, 69 Smith, 70
Red card: McGeady, 55
Attendance: 10,573 (2,601 away)