Public houses lost another legal battle with the Premier League this week in their attempts to show live games via foreign channels.
But nobody, either at the Stadium of Light or those enjoying alcohol, should have had to pay to watch what was served up in the North-east yesterday. Only occasionally did it resemble football. In the 83rd minute Sunderland’s Fabio Borini struck the crossbar. There was surprise at the show of invention. In injury time Crystal Palace went one worse when they created an opportunity that Joe Ledley whacked over the bar.
Sunderland, despite the surprising protestations of their under pressure manager Gus Poyet, will begin next season in the Championship if they continue to play this bad. They have won just one home game this year, and there is no surprise in that barren statistic: the powers that be at the club have spent millions on a team that cannot score goals.
Sunderland have found the net just twice in their last six games. And now, all scoring responsibilities are on the shoulders of Borini after Steven Fletcher limped off with a recurrence of his ankle injury and Jozy Altidore continues to look way short of a Premier League player.
In just over two weeks, reality has come crashing into the lives of Sunderland supporters. Being held by a similarly dreadful Palace side seems light years away from half-time in the CapitalOne Cup final against Manchester City, when they led 1-0.
“I feel calm today,” said Poyet. “We tried everything. That’s what we are. That is the team we have. We took the game to the opposition. We took risks and we tried crosses and shots. We tried everything. We didn’t score. The players gave everything they’ve got for this football club.
“The problem is that it’s not going our way. Nothing will change until the last game. I don’t think a team will completely go down in the next four weeks.”
In that there may be logic, because no side in that cluster of clubs in trouble near the bottom of the table has the talent or the momentum to burst free from the struggle. Palace manager Tony Pulis celebrated not losing, and he actually had a point.
“It’s about keeping your head,” he said. “It’s about making sure the players believe week in week out. If you lose games you have to bounce back.
“Other clubs have better players than us but they work very, very hard for us. They’re very tired in there. They have given us everything.”
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea (Scocco, 84), Brown, Alonso; Bridcutt; Johnson, Larsson (Gardner, 62), Ki, Borini; Fletcher (Altidore, 46).
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Mariappa, Delaney, Dann, Ward; Bolasie (Puncheo, 81), Jedinak, Dikgacoi, Ledley; Ince (Guedioura, 74); Murray (Jerome, 63).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Borini (Sunderland)
Match rating: 2/10