Portsmouth sold 427 tickets for this match. By the look of it, about half of the buyers decided to stay away. Those who came occupied a pocket of the Stadium of Light, taunted with the chant: "You've only got one fan."
The minimal support felt emblematic of a club seemingly in downward transition, draining faith, and as the Pompey players offered initially paper-thin resistance and could have been three, rather than one down by the half-hour mark, one felt for Tony Adams. This was his fourth game in charge post-Harry Redknapp and Portsmouth were bound for a third consecutive defeat.
But in Sunderland, Portsmouth found a team and a club also suffering a bout of introspection. The sense that things are not going as well as expected would have been taken aside by a convincing victory – and had Kieran Richardson's 16th-minute shot not come back off the post, a home win would surely have come. Djibril Cissé had already made it 1-0.
But instead Jermain Defoe's 90th- minute penalty-kick served to increase the intensity of Wearside's questioning: where is Roy Keane taking this team? Keane, with some justification, will say that the swivel of focus from Adams to him merely illustrates what he was saying on Friday about the "knee-jerk" nature of football coverage.
But the people writing to the Sunderland Echo also have their point. This was Sunderland's third straight defeat, not Portsmouth's; Sunderland have won one of their last seven, taking five points from a possible 21. You can feel unease around the place and, if this form continues, uncomfortable questions may be put to chairman Niall Quinn.
This was one of five winnable home games that take Sunderland to Boxing Day. West Ham, Bolton, West Brom and Blackburn are to come. Ten to 12 points was a reasonable target from those five games. The margin for error has just been reduced.
Given the oddness of the league, 40 points may be required come 24 May and setting sights so low will not delight fans who have seen significant investment. At least Andy Reid, an articulate presence, offered some context.
"I think this season was always going to be difficult in the early part," Reid said. "We've a lot of new players who need to gel, on and off the pitch. I think our first-half performance showed that we're finally getting there and showed what we're capable of."
Reid and Richardson gave Sunderland a good tempo in the first half but David James made saves and Portsmouth regrouped. Nadir Belhadj belted in a 51st-minute equaliser, then Glen Johnson was up-ended by El Hadj Diouf, enabling Defoe to rattle in the winner.
Defoe dismissed "speculation" about Redknapp and a return to Tottenham, adding that Adams had been "bopping" in the dressing room. A beaming Adams said he is set to bring in two new coaches tomorrow. How the moods swing.
Goals: Cissé (4) 1-0; Belhadj (51) 1-1; Defoe pen (90) 1-2.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins; Malbranque (Healy, 81) Whitehead, Richardson, Reid (Leadbitter, 81); Murphy (Diouf, h-t) Cissé. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Tainio, Miller, Henderson.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Pamarot; Kranjcar (Utaka, 69) Diarra, Davis, Belhadj; Crouch (Kanu, 69) Defoe (Hughes, 90). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Traoré, Kaboul, Bouba Diop.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Sunderland Collins; Portsmouth Diarra.
Man of the match: James.
Attendance: 37,712.Reuse content