Sunderland defender issues damning assessment after embarrassing defeat at Portsmouth

Tom Flanagan says Sunderland were too arrogant as they tried to implement their style and didn’t adapt to the conditions at Portsmouth.

Sunderland's Tom Flanagan, right, gets the better of Portsmouth's John Marquis in this aerial battle - but Marquis had the last laugh.
Sunderland's Tom Flanagan, right, gets the better of Portsmouth's John Marquis in this aerial battle - but Marquis had the last laugh.

The Black Cats suffered their heaviest defeat of the season as they were thumped 4-0 at Fratton Park and struggled to deal with Pompey’s high-intensity pressing game.

Persistent rain and swirling wind made it challenging for Sunderland to play out from the back, as Lee Johnson’s side were pinned back inside their own half.

Midway through the first half, Flanagan, who started as the right-sided centre-back, swapped positions with Bailey Wright but the move didn’t make much difference.

Asked if that call came from the players or the manager, Flanagan told the Echo: “A bit of both. Sometimes when it’s not going your way you kind of just make a decision.

“It’s tough because the manager didn’t say it but I’m sure if he could have made 11 subs at half-time he probably would have.

“Switching around positions on the pitch wasn’t that big a deal for us and we needed a better way of trying to win the game.

“We had a really good game plan and we were very comfortable with the game plan but we’ve let our arrogance turn into complacency.”

Sunderland came into the match following an eight-match unbeaten run and 5-0 win over Cheltenham, yet Flanagan believes the players should have taken more responsibility to adapt to the circumstances at Portsmouth.

"We have got our brilliance and our arrogance mixed up today,” he added after the game. “We were too arrogant and not brilliant enough, whereas on Tuesday (against Cheltenham) we had the perfect combination and put them to the sword because of our brilliance.

“We have an identity and we’ve played that way for the whole season and have played some really good football.

“You talk to all the boys in the dressing room and they are enjoying it. I’ve played here before and we’ve won and I actually haven’t enjoyed it, the style of football.

“Everyone enjoys this style of football but we want to win games and there is a certain way to win games.”

“Today we should have mixed it up more, we should have mixed it up more.”

“I totally understand when we are playing out from the back and making mistakes that it brings pressure from the fans and things like that.

“But we do have a way of playing and we’ve taken it too literally, and that’s down to the players, it’s not down to the manager.

“The manager isn’t standing on the sideline shouting ‘pass it, pass it, play out from the back.’

“Sometimes it’s us on the pitch. We’ve let the staff down really and I think as a group of players we know that.”

Flanagan, who also described the defeat as embarrassing, spoke to his team-mates in the dressing room and reiterated his feelings about taking responsibility and finding the right balance.

“We have all kind of had a bit of an awakening there so I just felt I’d say something,” he added.

“I wasn’t the only one who said something, a few others said stuff because we can’t always look to the manager to tell us what to do on the pitch. That comes down to us.”