Sunderland were humiliated by Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light with their feel-good factor from Good Friday's success over Cardiff City short-lived.

Sammie Szmodics scored twice in the space of six minutes as Sunderland found themselves behind at the break before capitulating at the start of the second half with two goals within nine minutes of the restart from Ryan Hedges and Tyrhys Dolan. 

Chris Rigg grabbed a consolation for Sunderland before Andrew Moran added a fifth for a Blackburn side who had won just once since mid-December in what was the clearest evidence to date as to the task at hand at the Stadium of Light this summer.

We Are Sunderland looks back at some of the key talking points from a harrowing afternoon on Wearside:


Good Friday-Bad Monday  

It was a rare feeling heading to the Stadium of Light on the back of a win after Sunderland had produced an all too infrequently positive display against Cardiff on Friday.

Having navigated their way through a cagey opening period of the game in South Wales, Sunderland got their noses in front and saw their confidence return as they breezed to a first win in eight games.

That should have been the springboard for Mike Dodds and his side heading into a game against a Blackburn team who had won just one of their previous 10 prior to Easter Monday. In truth, Sunderland started this game reasonably well. They were the team in the ascendancy and it felt like they were working their way into taking the lead before an untimely slip from Patrick Roberts allowed Blackburn to take the lead through Szmodics.

Within an instant, back came the uncertainty and naivety of Sunderland’s young squad as they played their way into further trouble with the first half going onto resemble just how great a task the Sunderland hierarchy face this summer in turning this squad back into a promotion contender.

Blackburn, and Szmodics, doubled their advantage within six minutes as Sunderland reacted poorly to a free kick and then a subsequent throw-in, as the Championship’s leading scorer found himself with too much space inside the penalty area again to slide into the same corner he had just found moments previously.

Sunderland were jeered off at the break, but at 2-0 they were still in the game against a side who found themselves in relegation trouble. At 3-0 that all changed.

Everything Dodds addressed to his team at the break was thrown out the window within 100 seconds of the restart as Blackburn sliced through Sunderland at will. Hedges started the move by winning back possession inside his own half before Sam Gallagher was able to get by Luke O’Nien far too easily and return to the Welshman, who had the freedom of the penalty area to pick his spot and kill the game.

The biggest concern for Dodds and the rest of his staff was the response thereafter. Sunderland capitulated in an unacceptable manner against a team whose last away success came in November. And again it was Sunderland’s naivety as they gave possession away in their own left-back position to Hedges who was able to pick out Dolan in the area to prod home a fourth.

Sunderland’s stadium emptied. An epitome of what has happened since December and the reality of a complete 180 shift in terms of the mood on Wearside. This was a vibrant place to be, littered with hope and expectation after a more than fulfilling return to Championship level. Now this is a place littered with anger, frustration and most worryingly; apathy as Blackburn cruised to their easiest win of the season. Sunderland left humbled and embarrassed.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland were humbled by Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of LightSunderland were humbled by Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light (Image: Ian Horrocks)


Changing a winning team

In Sunderland’s position the old debate of changing a winning team is one which Dodds is likely to have taken fairly seriously ahead of a return to the Stadium of Light.

Having gone so long without a win, Sunderland’s result and performance in South Wales on Good Friday probably merited another look. And yet few would have argued when the teamsheet landed that Dodds’ side looked noticeably stronger with the return of Roberts as well as Jack Clarke’s inclusion on the bench. Romaine Mundle’s start on the left was also unlikely to have caused too many issues given Abdoullah Ba’s indifferent form of recent weeks when tasked with making up for Clarke’s absence.

As noted three days ago, the bench, too, looked stronger. Suddenly, despite what has been a difficult 2024 to get on board with, there was a rare shred of positivity on Wearside, some light at the end of the tunnel before being quickly shut out midway through the game. 

The majority of Sunderland’s first half display left a lot to be desired, however. After Blackburn had negotiated the opening quarter-of-an-hour, they took full control of the game – making Sunderland’s Good Friday advances look like nothing more than an anomaly, with Aynsley Pears rarely troubled.

Things went from bad to worse for Dodds within minutes of the restart as Blackburn put the game beyond doubt through Hedges’ simple finish.

Sometimes it can be true what they say about never changing a winning team.

We Are Sunderland: Patrick Roberts made his return to the starting line-up for Sunderland against Blackburn RoversPatrick Roberts made his return to the starting line-up for Sunderland against Blackburn Rovers (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Roberts return fails to live up to expectation

It’s been a difficult season for most on Wearside but particularly Roberts.

The winger has established himself as one of Sunderland’s leading players and rejuvenated his own career in the process since joining the club and helping them back to the Championship – Roberts contributing towards 12 goals last season which helped earn him a new contract at the Stadium of Light in November.

In the exit of the likes of Ross Stewart and Amad Diallo, however, Roberts had been earmarked to take an even greater role for Sunderland this season, along with Clarke. Unfortunately the 27-year-old has been marred by injury this campaign with a series of hamstring issues plaguing his consistency – this just his 20th start of the season.

But within that, Roberts has so far only added two assists with Sunderland short of productivity in the final third throughout the season.

Dodds had continued to stress the importance of managing players on their returns from injury, Roberts having only returned to full training in the week ahead of the trip to Cardiff. And it was an afternoon which demonstrated how difficult it can be with regards to phasing players back into the rigmarole of the Championship.

It was Roberts’ mistake which led to the opening goal when losing his footing, with Trai Hume having advanced beyond the winger leaving space for Blackburn to attack in behind with Dolan slipping a ball into Szmodics to finish.

And Roberts inadvertently had a hand in Blackburn’s second when going to return a ball which had been cleared out into touch, only for Blackburn to restart the game with a different ball and capitalise on the man-advantage.

Roberts was brought off 10 minutes into the second half with Sunderland 4-0 behind having had 34 touches and just one dribble on an afternoon which suggested he remains some way from full match fitness.

Sunderland have much bigger issues troubling them, but getting Roberts back up to speed next season is something they will need.


Trai Hume's inverted wing-back role

Dodds has stuck to his guns since returning to the dugout as interim boss and his latest tactical ploy is straight from Pep Guardiola’s box of magic tricks – or the late great Johan Cruyff who utilised them with Barcelona years prior. That being said, why Sunderland are using inverted full-backs in the Championship remains anyone’s guess.

It’s a role that’s fallen on Hume’s shoulders since Dodds resumed interim charge, popping up in midfield to create an overload in the middle of the pitch. It may work for the Spanish giants and Manchester City, but it caused Sunderland more problems than it was worth.

It meant Hume was out of position when Blackburn countered and Roberts - who looked off the pace given his recent injury lay-off – spent the majority of his first half chasing men back towards his own goal. Bizarrely, there were times where the Northern Irishman was almost playing as a second striker, with Roberts in acres of space out on the flank.

Not once did Sunderland get the ball out to him when he was in space down the right-hand side. It would have made more sense for Roberts to be the man drifting infield into more advanced, dangerous areas of the pitch. After all, it’s one of his major strengths playing in between the lines.

Make no mistake, the decision to play Hume in such a role wasn’t the main reason behind Sunderland’s calamitous afternoon defensively, but it certainly didn’t add anything to their play going forward.

We Are Sunderland: Trai Hume in action for Sunderland against Blackburn RoversTrai Hume in action for Sunderland against Blackburn Rovers (Image: Ian Horrocks)


Where do Sunderland go from here?

For those left inside the Stadium of Light at full-time, the despondency said it all. Players crumbled to their knees, Dodds a forlorn figure in the technical area. But in the executive box and wherever majority owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus absorbed this game, the question remains the same: what next for Sunderland?

With six games to go, Sunderland's Championship safety should be secure, but the decision as to when to bring in a new head coach ahead of time may be one which takes a rethink over the final month of the season. The club, at this moment, seems rudderless. 

2024 has been unacceptable. Sunderland have won just four of 15 league games, they've lost nine, with this their heaviest defeat of the season and worst since losing by the same scoreline to Stoke City last season. 

Sunderland are actually only four points worse off than at this time last season but the contrast in mood could not be any different. It's a season they need to see the back of ahead of the biggest summer this current ownership have faced.