Even with Simon Grayson’s strongest side on the pitch for the bulk of this contest, Sunderland were unable to ask any serious questions of Bristol City in a dire second half that surely makes the visit of Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night a must win for the manager.
The hope had been that despite the first half following a painfully familiar pattern, promising start followed by soft goal conceded, a scrappy leveller on the break could be the platform for the Black Cats to take hold of the game and finally end their Wearside drought.
Instead they slowly, but surely, regressed, pushed back in their own half and eventually, aptly, bullied by substitute Milan Djuric as he towered above John O’Shea to head home.
The football, which began brightly enough, was poor. Too many long balls aimed at Lewis Grabban, who again underlined his goalscoring talent but clearly does not have much to offer as a target man.
It was laboured and directionless. Too many balls fired aimlessly into the channel for Duncan Watmore, easily shepherded by the latest defence to be asked too few questions in a Stadium that has understandably lost much of its faith.
Defending continues to be an Achilles heel, the opposition again finding it far too easy to camp in Sunderland’s six-yard box from a set-piece. The corner that forced Bristol City’s opener was almost a mirror image of that which QPR scored in the last game here at the Stadium of Light, a damning indictment. Jason Steele rooted to his line again, cleverly boxed in by the latest side to identify Sunderland’s problem.
Another run not tracked, another simple goal.
There can be no complaints about injuries or match fitness or any such issue here. This was a side of talented individuals again performing well below the necessary levels to compete even at this level.
Suggestions that three games unbeaten represented a corner turned looked very hollow as the game all but ground to a halt in the closing stages, one strong clearance and a comfortable late save about the only question asked of the Robins in the final 10 minutes.
Sunderland were again out of ideas and inspiration. They and their manager have three days, if that, to find them.