A CANDID Simon Grayson accused his Sunderland players of being a “soft touch” after they collapsed to a humiliating 5-2 defeat at the hands of Ipswich Town.

The Black Cats’ season went from bad to worse as they suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign and remained in the Championship relegation zone.

Former Sunderland striker Martyn Waghorn opened the scoring at Portman Road, with Jordan Spence, Bersant Celina, David McGoldrick and Grant Ward also finding the target as the visitors’ defence suffered a series of collapses.

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Billy Jones and Aiden McGeady netted for the Black Cats, but Grayson admitted his players’ performance was completely unacceptable, citing a lack of aggression and application as a key failing.

“It’s summed up when you go into the dressing room, and one of the younger lads says, ‘We’re soft as such and such’,” said the Sunderland boss. “And he’s right. We’re too easy to play against.

“The opposition have too much time on the ball. They get two easy goals and that affects us, but we don’t do enough to stop the opposition from playing. At this level you have to stop the opposition then you can go and play, we haven’t done that again.

“I’m not going to say the players don’t care because they do, but they're not doing enough to stop the opposition. Every time the ball went into the box for the first 25 minutes, it looked like they were going to score.

“Waghorn gets a free header, scores. Spence doesn’t get picked up from a corner, 2-1. We get back into it a little bit just after half-time, but from then on we were too easy to play against.”

Sunderland have now gone eight league games without a victory, and with their off-field problems having dominated the narrative during the summer, there is a sense of a team and a club in freefall.

The negativity that accompanied last season’s relegation has intensified in the last few weeks, but Grayson feels talk of a ‘lack of confidence’ is a convenient excuse.

“We can keep using that word, but to be fair, I’m sick of using it,” he said. “Players are getting paid handsomely and getting paid to do what millions of people are desperate to do.

“Yeah, you can have a lack of confidence, but that doesn't stop you getting the tackle in, stopping the opposition, getting close to them, defending the box. I can accept a lack of confidence on the ball, it becomes more important then, but it’s more about an inner desire to make sure you’re not a soft touch, and we are at the moment.”

Grayson’s own position will come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of his side’s latest defeat, and while he is hardly responsible for so much that has happened in the past, he admits his failure to address the problems is proving painful.

“We’ve lost and conceded five,” he said. “We've got to roll our sleeves up and do whatever we can to get it sorted. I'm not going to sit here and say everything is fine because it’s not. We’re in the bottom three and we’ve been beaten heavily, so we’ve got to work harder to be ready for Saturday.”

Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy knows all about experiencing difficult times on Wearside, and the former Black Cats manager has sympathy for the current incumbent of the Stadium of Light hot-seat.

“I had some very good times there,” said McCarthy. “I got promoted with £1m, and then got given £6m to try to keep them in the Premier League. With my arrogance, I thought I could do it, but I couldn’t. It was impossible, and I got the sack, and they’ve spent zillions since.

“I really feel for Simon because taking over on the back of a relegation is a really tough gig. I took over a team that was struggling and lost my first nine games in the Premier League, then I lost the first two of the next season against Nottingham Forest and Millwall. They’re going to Preston on Saturday though, and that’s where things turned round for me. I hope that’s an omen for Simon, I really do, because I like him a lot.”