“A self-inflicted travesty.”
Those were the words Niall Quinn used to describe Sunderland’s 2-1 defeat to Norwich on Sunday.
It's a perfectly fair assessment of a match which saw the side once again cursing poor finishing, even poorer defending and yet another appearance from Mr. Hyde.
However, in those four words, the Irish legend also neatly summed up Sunderland's recent Premier League history.
Defeat to Norwich meant an abysmal run of form continued, and as uncomfortable as it maybe to admit, they've only got themselves to blame.
Too often Sunderland have been found guilty of not taking chances, and in the Premier League that's a crime punishable by relegation.
I don't just mean chances in goalscoring opportunities, although Sunderland should have been convicted on that basis long ago. I mean in terms of building on what’s already in place.
See, Sunderland AFC have a habit of blowing golden opportunities. It’s a bad habit, and it’s got to stop.
Back in the early 2000s, Sunderland looked like they were becoming a force to be reckoned with, in the Premier League. With two seventh-place finishes under Peter Reid and one of England’s top scorers on board, things were looking rosy in the Sunderland garden.
It didn’t last long.
Complacency quickly sunk in, and when investments should have been made, they weren't. Within two seasons, the Black Cats went from potential European qualification to relegation, with a record-low points tally.
Seeing the bones of Reid's squad picked at by the unforgiving vultures of the Premier League hurt, but they went away, rebuilt and came back—only significantly weaker.
Under Mick McCarthy, their own record-low point tally was bettered, for a lack of a better word, and they were left shame-faced, tail between Black Cat legs, heading straight back down.
That paved the way for a hero's return, Niall Quinn. Quinn brought a welcome stability, and with it dreams of success. Roy Keane was appointed and promotion was promptly secured, restoring the feelgood factor amongst the ranks of Sunderland supporters.
However, millions were spent, with no real return apart from Premier League survival. With Niall Quinn, eventually, came Ellis Short. Belts were tightened, and Keane walked before he was pushed.
By the Steve Bruce era, everything seemed to be, once again, in place for Sunderland’s glorious rebirth. They had an ambitious owner, an enthusiastic chairman and an experienced manager in the process of putting together a decent squad, while once again the club had one of England’s best goalscorers in Darren Bent.
Surely now was Sunderland's time.
But Bruce couldn't manage the egos. Darren Bent left, Asamoah Gyan followed and, just like under Peter Reid, the strong, promising squad was dismantled, torn apart and left for dead just as quickly as it was assembled.
Now Martin O’Neill has been left with his toughest task yet, rebuilding the leftovers of Bruce’s squad. Initial signs were promising, but defeat against Norwich has left the side with only two wins in 22 games and teetering perilously close to the dreaded bottom three.
For Sunderland, the past decade has been littered with self-inflicted travesties. If they can’t halt this dreadful run of performances, the Martin O’Neill era is in real danger of becoming another missed opportunity.
And that would be the real travesty.
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