David Moyes' Sunderland look doomed after dismal defeat to Stoke
Sunderland once again look doomed to relegation after a dismal performance allowed Stoke City to stroll to a 3-1 win on Saturday, their first league victory at the Stadium of Light in the ground's 20-year history.
Manager David Moyes inexplicably stuck for 90 minutes plus five minutes' stoppage time with a starting XI that struggled to match well-organised but by no means exceptional opponents.
It took 38 minutes for Sunderland to manage an attempt on goal. Jack Rodwell's shot was blocked by Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant and the midfielder then impeded the better placed Jermain Defoe as both the former England internationals tried to reach the rebound.
But Sunderland were by then deservedly three down and although Defoe finished superbly soon afterwards after controlling a long punt from Donald Love, this proved no more than a desultory consolation. Rodwell missed a glorious chance to pull the score back to 3-2 after an hour and brief signs of more urgency quickly vanished, leaving Stoke in control and more likely to add further goals than concede.
This game, against a side Moyes must have regarded as beatable, was a crucial test of Sunderland's ability to compete in the top flight. On the evidence of a humiliating defeat that emptied the stands long before the final whistle, another escape from relegation now seems an improbable dream.
None, apart from Defoe's run into space, impeccable control and clinical finish.
Sunderland played as if a bunch of sluggish part-timers who had been introduced to one another shortly before kickoff against a team of fitter, stronger and smarter professionals. The limited nature of the comeback, especially after Defoe's goal offered slender hope, was inexcusable.
Manager rating out of 10
3 -- Once again, Moyes had promising under-23 players on the bench and chose not to use them. Their energy and hunger might have jolted the supposed seniors into playing like full internationals (as were nine of Saturday's XI).
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Vito Mannone, 4 -- Fumbled a shot immediately before Stoke's opening goal, jumped weakly with Peter Crouch in a vain attempt to prevent the third and generally looked shaky.
DF Donald Love, 4 -- Repeatedly exposed as Stoke attacked the left and ruined promising forward play with poor crosses or passes. His long ball, whether it was an intentional pass or a clearance, did lead to Defoe's goal.
DF John O'Shea, 3 -- A mere spectator as Stoke waltzed into a three-goal lead and never seemed capable of offering the captain's example this game demanded.
DF Papy Djilobodji, 3 -- Caught out on several occasions and like O'Shea, he was nowhere near Crouch as the tall striker rose with the hapless Mannone to nod home the third.
DF Patrick van Aanholt, 3 -- A serious off-day for the Dutch full-back. If his value was judged on a game in which he was as unimpressive in attack as he was vulnerable at the back, Sunderland would be snatching the £7 million offered by Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce, the man who turned him into an effective player when managing Sunderland.
MF Jason Denayer, 3 -- A dreadfully misplaced pass cost one goal and characterised his game to an extent that the fleeting glimpses of more composed play will not be remembered.
MF Jack Rodwell, 3 -- Has a habit of squandering simple chances at key moments. His woeful second half miss ended Sunderland's lingering hopes of salvaging a point.
MF Sebastian Larsson, 5 -- Available all over the pitch, tenacious in gaining or keeping possession but routinely lacking finesse with his final touch.
MF Fabio Borini, 3 -- Constantly angry with officials or opponents but significantly short of his best.
MF Adnan Januzaj, 3 -- Offered little or no threat on a day that called out for signs of his undisputed talent.
FW Jermain Defoe, 6 -- Hardly at his best but produced hope out of nothing with a superb finish for his 12th Premier League goal of the season -- an incredible tally given the lack of quality around him.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland