Sunderland surrendered a two-goal lead against Crystal Palace in their last game to lose the match 3-2. Christian Benteke’s injury-time header secured all three points for Palace and condemned the Black Cats to their 5th loss in 6 Premier League games. This defeat to Palace is a real hammer blow for the team and for the fans who thought that after a good victory in the midweek EFL Cup fixture, the team would make use of the winning momentum.
It all looked so different till the 60th minute of the match where the home team were sitting on top of a two-goal lead. Jermaine Defoe, scored twice to give the home side the lead but in the final 30 minutes, Crystal Palace finally made use of their chances to turn the tie on its head. Since the first goal of the visitors, 69 seconds after the second goal of Defoe, it looked like the hosts will eventually crumble. It was shocking to see how the hosts lost all their confidence with their backline, which looked shaky all through managing to shoot themselves in their foot.
The way in which the winner was conceded was particularly shocking. David Moyes looked like a man in disbelief after the game in his post-match interview who just couldn’t believe how his group of players switched to a zonal marking to defend a corner kick right at the end of the match.
Sunderland’s embarrassments were compounded by the man who scored the winning goal in Christian Benteke. The big Belgian simply couldn’t believe when he saw the defenders switching to a zonal for the set piece. Benteke after the game when asked about his opposition’s tactic for the corner, said, “Yeah, I was surprised, because obviously it was probably the last chance of the game, and as soon as I saw the defenders marking zonal, I knew I was going to get my chances. I think it’s the easy way to defend. It’s an easy way to defend for the defender, and it’s an easy way to attack for the attacker.”
Sunderland’s defensive midfielder Jan Kirchhoff didn’t hold back his feelings about his teammates either after the match. The German’s comments are very significant here. He remarked, “It is 100% fair to say that we have to take responsibility. We get prepared well before the game and we know what to do. But we didn’t do it properly. Over the whole game, we defended every free-kick and corner properly, but then right at the end, we didn’t do that. There is no excuse. I think we made the wrong decision to mark zonally instead of man-to-man at the final free-kick. But it is up to us to communicate on the pitch and get leadership down there. We need people who are willing to take the lead and say, ‘This is what we need to do to get this result’.”
The lack of leadership and communication has cost Sunderland dear so far. With the players seemingly not clear about their roles and functions lacking clarity in their actions is just the kind of thing which happens when a team is just going downwards without any stopping as players keep on screwing things up some way or the other.
The manager, David Moyes, has taken a clear stance on the situation which reflected some of his anger and disappointment. “I don’t know that I’m necessarily an arm-around-the-shoulder man, I want to see men stand up and take responsibility, be tough and take the challenge on. At the moment we’re not doing the basics well enough; not heading it and kicking it when we get the chance or doing the picking up and marking we need to do. The players need to take responsibility. It can’t always be me leading them by the hand and showing them where they should be and what they should do.”
These were the words of the Scotsman which has put the situation in the balance. Moyes knew before that the Sunderland job was going to be his toughest test yet and within two months, it already looks like we can hear the alarm bells for the start of the end of yet another inefficacious spell of management at a club for the Scotsman.