THE more things change, the more they stay the same, or at least that’s how it must feel for Sunderland fans right now – and they are showing it.

During last season’s ill-fated fall out of the Premier League, the Black Cats under David Moyes didn’t win a match at the Stadium of Light after beating Watford narrowly before Christmas.

That was one of just three victories on home turf, so 16 times supporters had to leave, by and large, disappointed with the outcome. Such a return was not something new either, over the last four years they have won only 18 of the 79 games on their own patch.

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No wonder then that Sunderland’s supporters, of which many are staying away after a torturous few years at the top level, are already getting tetchy in the Championship.

Life in the second tier was supposed to be – and could yet be – much more bearable. Sunderland should win more games and score more goals, right? It’s a new group of players, after all, even if Simon Grayson has only spent £1.25m on ten new players.

That was certainly not the case against Sheffield United. And further repeats of the soporific performance which saw the Blades’ momentum and spirit from promotion following League One carry over and prove too much for Sunderland will land Grayson’s men in big trouble.

Sunderland have had three home games at the Stadium of Light at the lower level and they are still showing no signs of improving on the turgid record in front of their own supporters.

Ahead of Nottingham Forest’s visit, Grayson has seen his players follow up a pretty decent draw with Derby on opening night with back-to-back defeats to Leeds and Sheffield United. Hardly the form of promotion contenders, more reflective of a team sitting 21st and a point above the League One trapdoor.

Experienced defender John O’Shea has seen it all. He said: “We have to pick up points at home. We need to get the fear factor and make sure it’s a fortress rather than having results that bit better away from home.

“None of the players or staff wanted to lose this game. Everyone wants that positive feeling and at the minute it’s not a nice feeling but you can only really change it on the training ground. If you do that and transfer it to the pitch, the fans get behind you.

“When you win at home you get crowds in the door. We saw from the first game (to the second) the crowds went up and we know the support is great when it is bouncing. They have to stick with us and hopefully they will.

“Everyone is doing everything as best they can. We have to keep doing that and it will turn for us. I trust in the players and the management that it will turn for us.”

When the first whistle had blown the sight of debutant Jonny Williams – playing his first piece of first team football since December 17, the same day Sunderland last won at home – buzzing around looked encouraging.

Williams, signed from Crystal Palace, looked hungry to impress, but it soon became apparent the rest of the team did not have the same vibrancy about their play. They had not created a meaningful chance when Clayton Donaldson capitalised on a quick counter-attack to give the Blades the 21st minute lead.

Sunderland had seen an attack break down, Sheffield United broke and Donaldson was able to cut inside from the right and beat Marc Wilson, another debutant, before picking out the inside of Robbin Ruiter’s inside post by shaving the post.

After the restart it was more of the same. Sunderland couldn’t conjure up an effort on target before 33-year-old Donaldson, signed on deadline day from Birmingham, made it two 13 minutes before the end.

This time a Sunderland free-kick was lumped forward. After a couple of defensive headers, the ball fell to David Brooks and he rolled a pass between the defenders for Donaldson to run on to an arrow an effort into Ruiter’s top left corner.

Sunderland’s fans immediately started to chant ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and ‘are you watching Ellis Short’ – and O’Shea, who was introduced at half-time for the injured Lamine Kone, sympathised.

The Irish defender said: “The frustration is there and you only turn that around by winning football matches. That’s something we have to stand up and be counted for.

“If we do things right, the fans will come back onside very quickly, as I’ve seen throughout the years. We’ve spoken about making sure we all take responsibility, the players and the staff.”

There was a late consolation when Sunderland finally hit the target. Ironically it was confidence drained Jack Rodwell, who had been booed himself, who glanced Callum McManaman’s free-kick beyond Jamal Blackman.

The game, though, had already been lost. And, familiarly, Sunderland had suffered defeat at the Stadium of Light. Forest tomorrow night anyone?