Former Sunderland skipper Gary Bennett believes that they cannot keep making excuses as the club’s promotion challenge has halted in recent weeks.
Phil Parkinson’s side have gone four games without a win which has had drastic implications on the Sky Bet League One table as the Black Cats have slipped to seventh position. Although they are level on points with both Peterborough United and Wycombe Wanderers, both of these clubs have games in hand that could see Sunderland massively fall out of the promotion picture come May.
The run started with a draw with fellow play-off chasing Fleetwood Town, but the Black Cats will have felt lucky to escape with a point as Max Power scored the equalising goal in the seventh minute of time added on.
A disappointing defeat to table topping Coventry City was backed up with a gut wrenching 2-2 draw with Steve Evans’ Gillingham side. The Black Cats received a taste of their own medicine as Mikael Mandron returned to the Stadium of Light and bagged a brace which included a 96th minute equaliser.
But perhaps the worst performance and result of the entire run came on Tuesday night as the Black Cats suffered yet another away defeat, this time at the hands of mid-table Bristol Rovers – Gas talisman Jonson Clarke-Harris netted a brace to heap misery on Sunderland.
Bennett, who made 369 appearances for Sunderland over a 11-year stay, told the Sunderland AFC Podcast that the side are in a bad run of form, he said: “We’ve lost our way.
“We looked at the Fleetwood game and the way that we set up and conceded the goal early doors. We said the exact same thing against Coventry City.
“We keep making excuses, but our performances have got worse.”
The former Sunderland captain blasted the whole squad for their performance away at Bristol Rovers, even those who had only just made their way into the starting 11, he continued: “You look at Semenyo who has come in and you look at Scowen who has come in as well – you can’t just point the fingers, there’s a lot.
“One or two players were below par [against Bristol Rovers] and as a team we were poor.”
Sunderland will travel to mid-table Blackpool on Saturday as they look to put Tuesday night’s result behind them and to begin to look forward to the play-offs. Parkinson’s men could put themselves right back into the play-off conversation if they are able to take advantage of a Blackpool side who will be licking their wounds after their defeat on Tuesday to Tranmere Rovers.
Besides the two clashes with Peterborough United and Rotherham United, Sunderland have some winnable games remaining and should they perform, they could easily find themselves in the end of season lottery.
It would be hard to argue with what Bennett says if you take into consideration the run of form that Sunderland are on. Taking two points from the last 12 available is not going to be good enough if you are wanting to put yourself right in the play-off mix at the end of the campaign, what will be disappointing to Sunderland is the ground that they have lost on those in the automatic places.
When they travelled to Coventry, there was talk of Sunderland moving into one of those top two places, but a defeat at St Andrew’s has tipped the Black Cats the opposite way entirely. Both Gillingham and Bristol Rovers are sides that Sunderland should be able to beat with minimal effort and perhaps the pressure is taking its toll on the players with them expected to almost walk away with the league title before a ball was even kicked. The players seem to be playing with that added extra weight on their shoulders and that has started to show in recent weeks, but the club’s supporters they will be hoping they can handle the pressure during the elusive run-in.