Shell-shocked Sunderland head coach Dick Advocaat has described his team’s early-season form as “frightening” after seeing them succumb in pitiful fashion for the second successive week.
Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Norwich proved even more soul-destroying than the 4-2 opening-day drubbing at Leicester, and left Advocaat desperately searching for a solution with the campaign threatening to unravel before it has begun in earnest.
Asked if the performance has left him with more questions than answers, the 67-year-old Dutchman, who was due to sit down with his players for a frank exchange of views on Sunday, said: “A lot of questions.
“You can lose or lose, but the way we lose is frightening. We discussed it last week and if you see them training, they give everything and many players are playing at the top. But that is not enough.
“The strength of our team in the last nine games (of last season) was that we played 4-3-3, everybody knew what to do, the players accepted their roles.
“Now probably some players maybe think that they can do more, and they cannot do that. In that way, I have seen a lot and I don’t accept it any more.”
There was little to choose between the sides until Black Cats goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon could only parry Robbie Brady’s 26th-minute shot and look on in horror as the ball cannoned off defender Russell Martin’s shins and into the net.
It was a lead the visitors never looked like relinquishing and as the impressive Wes Hoolahan started to work his magic with full-back Patrick van Aanholt seemingly mesmerised by what was going on around him, they killed the game off in clinical fashion.
The Republic of Ireland international provided the link for first full-back Steven Whittaker and winger Nathan Redmond to carve paths through the home defence and beat Pantilimon either side of the break to send the locals streaming towards the exits with more than half an hour still to play.
Substitute Duncan Watmore provided a modicum of light relief two minutes from time when he marked his Barclays Premier League debut with a consolation strike, but it proved little comfort.
Many home fans raised their voices in a chorus of “Are you watching, Ellis Short?”, exhorting the chairman to sanction significant spending in what remains of the summer transfer window, but Advocaat, who has been frustrated by the lack of recent movement on that front, absolved the Texan of responsibility on that front.
He said: “With all respect, you cannot blame the president for this. Of course not. I have to blame myself, the players have to blame themselves and we have to find out if we can find a solution.”
Norwich boss Alex Neil was thrilled with his side’s display on Wearside and in particular, with Hoolahan’s contribution.
He said: “Wes was fantastic last year, and he’s been great. The older he’s got in the last couple of years, he’s really kept on as a player.
“His experience and his quality that he’s got, and his ball control - technically, he’s a fantastic little player.”
The only disappointment for the Scot was the late goal, although even that yielded a positive.
He said: “We were probably arguing more about that after the game than losing last week, so I think it just shows how we go about our business and the standards we expect from each other, and that’s a positive thing.”