MICK McCARTHY had some difficult times as Sunderland manager. He lost his first nine games in charge as the Black Cats were relegated in 2004, and presided over most of the disastrous campaign three years later that saw the club demoted again with a record points low. In his three years in charge, however, he never plumbed depths like this.

Sunderland are in meltdown, and who knows where their fall will end. This was bad enough, with the Wearsiders conceding five goals to McCarthy’s Ipswich Town as their defence repeatedly collapsed in the face of even the slightest pressure, but it merely extended what was already a horrendous run.

Since recording their only league win at Norwich in September, the Black Cats have gone eight Championship games without a victory. They are entrenched in the bottom three, with their confidence clearly shot. Goodness knows how they will turn this around.

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Their tormentor-in-chief last night was one of their former players, with ex-academy product Martyn Waghorn opening the scoring with an early header before setting up second-half goals for Bersant Celina and David McGoldrick.

Jordan Spence and Grant Ward also scored for the home side, and while Sunderland claimed goals of their own through a Billy Jones header and a fine second-half strike from Aiden McGeady, the margin of their defeat might have been greater still had Ipswich not taken their foot off the gas in the second half. Defensively, the visitors were all over the place for large chunks of the game.

Simon Grayson’s ongoing experimentations with tactics and personnel are a reflection of Sunderland’s struggles this season, but while he made five changes last night, reverting to a flat back four, hopes of a more robust defensive display were dashed after just six minutes.

Ipswich’s opener could hardly have been simpler, with Joe Garner swinging over a cross from the right and Waghorn stealing ahead of Lamine Kone to glance home a header. South Shields-born Waghorn failed to score in his eight senior appearances for Sunderland at the start of his career, so there was a sense of inevitability about him finding the target against his former employers. Nevertheless, Sunderland’s attempts to mark him so early in the game were embarrassingly poor.

In fairness, Ipswich’s backline weren’t any better six minutes later, with their tardiness enabling the Black Cats to equalise.

McGeady delivered a corner from the left, and Jones wriggled free of McGoldrick to power home a downward header at the front post. It was the defender’s first goal since scoring against Hull in the final month of last season, but proved a fleeting moment of positivity. It did not take long for normal service to be resumed.

Sunderland would have fallen behind again in the 19th minute had Lee Cattermole not hacked away Garner’s header from just in front of the goalline, and Waghorn wasted another fine opening moments later as he dragged a shot wide after Jonas Knudsen’s low cross caused yet more problems for the visitors’ defence.

The Black Cats looked vulnerable every time the ball went into the area, and Ipswich deservedly reclaimed their lead just before the half-hour mark.

Again, it was basic stuff, with Waghorn sending over a corner and Spence out-jumping James Vaughan to head home from ten yards. The personnel trying to defend Sunderland’s goal might change, but the outcome in terms of conceding remains resolutely unchanged.

The visitors would have been even further behind at the interval had the recalled Jason Steele not made a fine save to keep out Tom Adeyemi’s header, and with Waghorn whistling another effort just past the left-hand upright, Sunderland’s defensive frailties were clear to see.

They carried a threat on the counter-attack, and Bartosz Bialkowski kept out Callum McManaman’s low strike with his legs after Cattermole teed up the winger at the end of the first half, but it would be wrong to suggest Sunderland were anything other than second best all evening.

That said, however, they looked to have claimed a second equaliser three minutes after the restart, only for Bialkowski to produce an excellent save. Spence made a mess of dealing with McGeady’s cross, but while an onrushing Cattermole looked to have scored with a header, Ipswich’s goalkeeper somehow tipped the ball over the crossbar.

Sunderland had already produced their second goalline clearance of the night by that stage, with Adam Matthews mopping up after Celina’s shot slipped through Steele’s hands, and the visitors were forced into a defensive reshuffle in the early stages of the second with John O’Shea replacing the injured Marc Wilson. Suffice to say, the change did nothing to rectify their problems.

O’Shea had been on the pitch for precisely six minutes as Sunderland fell further behind, although it was Bryan Oviedo who was especially culpable for the concession as he conceded possession in his own half.

Garner crossed from the right, Waghorn took out two defenders with a neat back-heel, and Celina swept a crisp side-footed finish into the bottom corner.

Four minutes later, and the rout became even more emphatic, with Waghorn claiming another assist as he crossed from the right. McGoldrick’s first effort was saved by Steele, but the striker reacted quickly to stab home the rebound with Sunderland’s goalkeeper still prostrate.

It was frantic stuff, but just as the Black Cats looked to be heading to a complete embarrassment, McGeady reduced their arrears with the goal of the night. Cutting in from the left-hand side, the Irishman whipped a superb 20-yard strike into the top right-hand corner.

Fittingly, though, the final word went to Ipswich, with Ward galloping clear in the closing stages before rounding Steele to slot home.