Jason Steele may feel it was the curse of Salut! Sunderland. No sooner did we run a largely pro-Robbin Ruiter outsider’s piece on the battle for the No 1 jersey than Newton Aycliffe-born Steele is recalled to side only to concede five times.
But in yet another painfully dismal display by Sunderland, producing a crushing 5-2 defeat at Ipswich, Steele was nowhere near being Simon Grayson’s weakest link.
If Pete Sixsmith finds a welcoming library or internet cafe before leaving East Anglia – he warned beforehand that filing a Soapbox could be tricky – we shall doubtless learn more about Steele’s evening. From snippets picked up from Portman Road, it would appear he took a first half injury when saving bravely at Martyn Waghorn’s feet but played on and was unlucky with the fourth after initially making a good stop.
The Sunderland Echo said: “Given no protection after replacing Ruiter.” It gave him 4/10 but this has to be seen in the context of 3s for Lamine Kone, Marc Wilson and Darron Gibson and no one able to rise above 6 (Callum McManaman). The Northern Echo gave Kone all of 2/10.
And the boss? Readers will have noticed that there is no manager’s post-match e-mail this season. The club itself discontinued what has become a traditional feature of each game, going back to Steve Bruce’s time. We decided it was not worth the effort to cobble together an alternative from the statements made and press conferences given.
But with supporters rightly wondering if a woeful night at Portman Road represents the nadir, or just another plunging fall with worse still to come, it is interesting – and alarming – to see what Grayson had to say to the club site.
After the usual bland truisms – “when you lose a game and you concede five it is always going to be a disappointing night” – he rued Sunderland’s total inability to stop Ipswich from playing. Only in the last 15-minutes, the game as good as lost (and of course with a morale-sapping fifth yet to be scored) had his players “started d to win second balls and ask questions of the opposition”.
And here comes the killer comment, the admission that makes us look every inch a relegation side:
Every time the ball went into the box in the first half it looked like we might concede. People didn’t stop crosses going in the box in the first place, you could say we were five yards off the pace.
Back to Sixer, suffering with the other travelling Lads and Lasses at the match. His seven-word verdict as published – “Sunderland’s defending plummets to unheard of depths” – was not the only he offered as the game progressed:
* (after Ipswich regained the lead making it 2-1) Two headers, two goals. Dreadful marking again
* (half time) Ipswich better side. That says it all
* (at 4-1) An awful evening in a misty Suffolk
* (at final whistle) Gifted all five goals. Heading for Rochdale
Monsieur Salut’s postscript: I was playing badminton in the south of France as Pete’s texts kept me informed. Another player saw the London supporters’ association branch badge on my top and asked if Sunderland were my team. He seemed as sympathetic as you could expect a disinterested Frenchman to be as I explained our plight: you don’t need much French to translate déjà relégable après seulement neuf matchs. And now it’s dix.
For my own part, I can say this is the first season, even in recent bleak times, when I have not regretted for a second being nowhere near a game so far. I’ll be back for the Tees-Wear derby and maybe a couple of games before. I think I’d rather stay.