Trying to evaluate the true value of Sunderland’s squad during this distressing start to the Premier League season has become an almost impossible task.
For all the moments of inspiration and endeavour when you feel like the Black Cats are in a false position in the top flight table, there are days like Saturday when the players look incapable of mastering some of the basics.
From Wednesday to Saturday, the performances were night and day. Against Chelsea there was hope, optimism and attacking spark; when Tottenham visited it felt like Sunderland were drained of the energy they had. The only thing that remained was the propensity to make basic errors.
It was left to the players to mount a case for optimism and Adam Johnson, the goalscorer, did his level best to try and construct some sort of basis for believing that the Black Cats might extricate themselves from the precipice of the Championship.
“It’s not about what the table looks like now it is what it looks like after 38 games,” he said.
“We have to think about the next one coming up and not about the fixture list after that. For everybody who is writing us off at the moment, we have a lot more winnable games coming up than we have had in the last few weeks and we have to look at the positive side.
“Hopefully we will get a good result next week and if we can pick up a good couple of results over the Christmas period we can pick up.”
In these dark days, it is possible to wonder what would have happened if Sunderland had ditched the poisonous Paolo di Canio in the summer and given the job to the patently more capable Gus Poyet. Johnson as good as did that as he backed the manager to turn it around.
He said: “We feel good as a team but it is all about getting points. We have been in games and scored the against Chelsea and still lost. Not many teams will do that this season.
“These three games have been very tough and have taken a lot out of us. We will get a rest and we will go in to the next one confident, trying to pass the ball and get a positive result.
“The gaffer has come in and I think he has been brilliant. Who knows what would have happened if we’d have had him at the start of the season.
“You have got to take those kind of things as a positive.”