SUNDERLAND OPINION – Derby defeat highlighted the weaknesses that blight the Black Cats

Sunderland are sixth in the Championship, but a bruising FA Cup exit at the hands of Newcastle United at the end of a farcical week off the pitch underlined how things aren't quite right on Wearside right now

It feels as if we’re at a crossroads.

Sunderland sit sixth in the Championship yet the season has been riddled with inconsistency and general disappointment – and some downright stupidity.

Last week was farcical. It was completely unacceptable on every level and the defeat on Saturday felt inevitable after the club had done pretty much everything in their power to chuck any home advantage away. The performance from the players, who did their best, was pretty meek and from the manager it was much worse.

Michael Beale’s short tenure at the Stadium of Light has been shrouded in negativity. Rightly or not, he wasn’t the manager anyone wanted, he didn’t help himself with the start against Coventry and with some of his comments in interviews. In a word – underwhelming.

Admittedly, the circus off the field surrounding the Newcastle game has not helped him, and the fast turnaround over the festive period means he probably hasn’t had the desired time on the training ground.

To be fair, take the Coventry game out and results have been okay. Seven points over Christmas from Hull, Rotherham and Preston is a good return, though the performances haven’t set the world alight.

The comfortable Preston win at the time was very positive, controlling the second half with ease. But after the dismal derby display, how much of that drop off was deliberate?

Off the pitch, it’s abundantly clear that the squad needs additions. The striker situation is now beyond any sort of parody, despite Nazariy Rusyn getting off the mark on New Year’s Day. He doesn’t look like a centre forward. His work rate is admirable but he plays like more of a 10 or a wide player.

Luis Hemir, you can forget, you’d imagine Mason Burstow goes back to Chelsea and Eliezer Mayenda showed a little positivity but looks so raw Gordon Ramsay would be screaming at the chef.

The midfield is a concern too. Dan Neil is fantastic, I think. Holding on to him for anything longer than this season will be a massive bonus, and I believe he should be captain of the football club.

Alongside him is the issue, as there is often nothing. Pierre Ekwah, for all the good touches he shows and flashes of brilliance, has gone missing too often this season, and at times has looked out of his depth.

This, I guess, is to be expected with such a young squad but it’s where I feel for him. He has to play as there are very few alternatives. With Corry Evans nowhere to be seen, a commanding central midfielder, to unleash Neil and Ekwah, is absolutely critical.

Last January was a major disappointment. The refusal to bring in striking reinforcements, other than Joe Gelhardt, smacked of ignorance and a “we know best” attitude from the decision makers.

Worse still, it seemed as if the promotion charge was being actively derailed. We finished sixth, somehow. Mowbray worked miracles but this year the league is stronger – a similarly poor window this season and we won’t be finishing sixth.

We don’t have Mowbray anymore, we have Michael Beale and – without having a dig, okay, I will – we have chosen to give ourselves a worse manager.

Rumours of signing Bournemouth’s Kieffer Moore are good in my opinion, yet make no sense. 31-year old Moore fits none of the supposed “model”, and you’ve sacked Tony Mowbray yet are now considering bringing in the type of player he’d been crying out for.

At best it seems muddled, and at worst it indicates they aren’t quite sure what to do. They are just that, rumours of course, and I can’t see us making that type of signing.

We need to make some additions though, and ones that are first team ready. Hanging onto Jack Clarke and Neil? I think we probably will, just, but they’ll be gone at the end of the season. This is where their beloved model is really tested – what route are they going down for replacements?

The manager must do more. His demeanour is poor, the lack of effort to change anything against Newcastle was frustrating.

He comes across as someone more at home on the training ground than as the face of the football club, and there are two real tough games coming up.

Beale, rightly or wrongly, doesn’t have a grace period with many supporters. Some minds are made up; two defeats against Ipswich and Hull and I think many more will be too.