FOR all the improvements that Sunderland have made in a short space of time under Chris Coleman, he had that familiar feeling of dejection again at the Stadium of Light.

For the third time since taking over from Simon Grayson in November, the former Wales manager has endured frustration after the highs of a hard-earned victory.

Just like when he was left disappointed by Sunderland’s defeat to Reading after celebrating his first win at Burton, and just like that depressing feeling when they were unable to beat bottom club Birmingham (before even worse at Sheffield United) after defeating Fulham, they were at it again.

Loading article content

After the highs of leaving Nottingham Forest with a third win under his watch at the City Ground on Saturday, Coleman had to deal with the low of another afternoon of torment against another team battling to beat the drop.

Barnsley, without a win in ten beforehand, left Wearside with three points courtesy of Ethan Pinnock’s downward header inside two minutes of the second half when Adam Matthews allowed him the space to beat Robbin Ruiter.

It was certainly not the start to 2018 Coleman and Sunderland needed, as they looked to hit New Year’s Day like they intended to go on. If they are to climb away from danger then they can’t afford to keep shooting themselves in the foot with missed opportunities.

Paul Heckingbottom could easily have been the man standing in the home dug-out. Instead he could celebrate by ending Barnsley’s winless run that had stretched back to him being linked with the Sunderland job.

That sequence had allowed Sunderland to close the gap on the Tykes. Under Coleman, the man chief executive Martin Bain opted for in the end, there is a new lease of life, highlighted by three wins from their first eight matches under him had lifted them out of the bottom three.

What impressed him the most during that run has been signs of resilience. Despite blips like against Reading, Birmingham and Sheffield United, Sunderland have shown they can actually defend and were looking for a fifth clean sheet under his watch. They never looked comfortable this time around though, even if they did only concede one.

Preparations were hit by Marc Wilson’s withdrawal. His absence meant a change to the three man defence, with full-back Matthews asked to play there instead. He soon found himself in a game too.

Barnsley, despite their poor run, started stronger. Mamadou Thiam, a nuisance in the final third initially, was first to go close when he somehow dug out a rasping drive from 25 yards that rocketed off the bar. Moments after that Adam Hammill saw an effort roll a yard wide too.

Sunderland did find their feet, containing the visitors more often. In fact, with Darron Gibson pulling the strings in the middle with his variation of passing before injury forced him off, the game opened up because the home side looked more dangerous.

But Callum McManaman, who together with Aiden McGeady tried to make things happen, was the only Sunderland player to have an effort on target before the break; even that was a deflected effort that tamely dropped into the arms of goalkeeper Adam Davies.

It was Ruiter who had to make the best save of the half when he was alert to thwart a low strike from Lloyd Isgrove at his near post after the winger had worked his way in behind the defence.

The truth is that Sunderland couldn’t cope after Gibson’s withdrawal just after half an hour. He had been integral to everything positive in the first half, so the onus was on how Paddy McNair would deliver on his first outing since November 25.

Despite positives, including a fine 25-yard free-kick from Bryan Oviedo that curled against the post, Coleman needed to get more from his men after the restart to get the job done – and McNair and George Honeyman had to keep things moving in the middle.

In a bid to do that he scrapped his trusted three-man defence for the second half, with Oviedo making way and teenager Maja introduced as a second striker. It didn’t have the desired effect because within 98 seconds Barnsley had gone ahead.

When Zeki Fryers sent over a corner, Matthews - who had played fine as a makeshift centre-half – basically stood and watched as Pinnock arrived in front of him to nod in the opener. It was a horrendous goal to concede, with the ball being allowed to bounce in the area too.

Coleman’s final move to try to salvage something was to throw on Joel Asoro for McManaman, who had failed to maintain his first half vibrancy. Barnsley looked more dangerous, with Isgrove making things happen, and Ruiter had to save an effort from Brad Potts. There were a late couple of chances, like Maja’s header over the bar and Vaughan had an effort cleared off the line by Jason McCarthy, but Sunderland didn’t really deserve to claim a point.