Sunderland players need to prove Dick Advocaat was WRONG

Dick Advocaat ruffled a few feathers among Sunderland fans when he conducted the inevitable post-departure interview to reflect on an ill-fated second coming at the Stadium of Light.

Admittedly, the Dutchman’s remark that Sunderland’s squad simply wasn’t good enough to remain in the Premier League was met with nods by some on Wearside.

Yet there was resentment from others, who argued that a lack of defensive organisation, rather than personnel, was the main problem in those harrowing early days of the campaign.

There was no bitterness at the heart of Advocaat’s remarks though.

He was just being honest.

Throughout the summer transfer window, Advocaat had been deeply concerned by the investment in the playing squad and appeared to be constantly reviewing his decision to eventually agree to Sunderland’s badgering for him to return.

Remember, this was a manager who had identified the need for six “quality” signings who immediately improved the starting XI after keeping the club in the Premier League.

The failure to land those appropriate recruits was a principal reason for the 68-year-old’s eventual departure.

He got two “quality” signings in Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens (albeit there were question marks about the latter’s temperament) and probably a third in Younes Kaboul when fit, which Sam Allardyce is painfully discovering is not as often as he’d hope.

Predictably, Allardyce was asked about his predecessor’s remarks when he first arrived at the Stadium of Light and declared his eagerness to prove the ex-Holland manager wrong.

Allardyce’s comments were predictable, even if he’s now clearly looking to change the make-up of the squad as much as possible next month.

But a week before Advocaat had made the final decision to hang up his tracksuit, he watched his Sunderland side trampled by a Manchester City in a one-sided League Cup tie which could feasibly have seen Manuel Pellegrini’s side approach a cricket score.

It was the exact same story on Saturday and that’s the big concern.

Sunderland look no better than they were in those harrowing early days of the campaign when they were conceding goals for fun.

From appearing to be on an upward curve after Crystal Palace, Stoke and even the defeat at Arsenal, Sunderland are back at square one; do not pass go, do not collect £200.

As Advocaat remarked back in September, there is no disgrace in losing to a City side boasting such an array of talent, with Kevin De Bruyne again exceptional as he continually picked holes in the Sunderland back line.

Yet there are ways to lose and then there’s plain old embarrassing.

Defensively, Sunderland were ghastly on Boxing Day – not closing down, not blocking crosses, not jumping for headers, not preventing City from ghosting into the penalty area at little more than walking pace.

At this rate, there’s going to be an awful lot dependent on any January recruits instantly proving to be world-beaters.

Using Danny Graham on the right wing, resting Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore, and dropping Costel Pantilimon didn’t help Sunderland’s cause, without question.

There seemed an evident element from Allardyce of attempting to preserve energy levels for what are two huge home games coming this week, against Liverpool and, particularly, Aston Villa.

Allardyce has received flak for the decision and understandably so.

But if it pays off with points this week, then it’s perhaps the right move.

Yes, Sunderland produced “miracles” two seasons ago and Leicester did likewise last time around, yet if the Black Cats fail to win one of these next two, then it realistically is game-over.

From somewhere Allardyce has to pluck out a positive result, yet when he is scratching around for the strongest team to play, that looks a tall order.

The return of Lee Cattermole has come in the nick of time, with the Teessider’s 35-odd minutes one of the few rays of light stemming from defeat at the Etihad.

Cattermole couldn’t halt the pattern of City picking holes with slick one-twos, yet there is at least some presence, leadership and bite when he’s on the pitch, even if that passion can occasionally boil over.

With fellow midfielder M’Vila looking fatigued against City, Sunderland are going to need their longest-serving first-teamer back in the engine room.

Cattermole clearly didn’t mean to tee up Fabio Borini for Sunderland’s consolation, yet the Italian was one of the only other positives.

Unlike some of his team-mates, Borini’s work-rate and determination never dimmed – creating a glorious chance which Graham should have converted when Sunderland were only trailing by two.

Borini has finally begun to find a splash of confidence too and he’s desperate to net for the third game on the spin against his former employers on Wednesday night.

The magnitude of the Liverpool and Villa matches cannot be overstated.

It’s make-or-break time now if Sunderland are to avoid being cast adrift along with Villa.

These players have to prove Advocaat wrong because at the moment, they’re doing nothing to dispel his fears.

In fact, the veteran Dutchman looks right on the money.