IF he didn’t before, Chris Coleman certainly now knows what he has let himself in for at Sunderland.

Sheffield United, who frustrated his predecessor Simon Grayson back in September, carried on where Birmingham City left off on Saturday by erasing the lingering signs of positivity following his decision to take over on Wearside.

Coleman, who will be desperate to get to January in the hope the club’s owner Ellis Short grants him at least a little freedom to mix up this squad, had no answer from his technical area as the Blades improved their promotion chances by keeping Sunderland in the bottom three.

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Suddenly Sunderland’s four-point blast from games with Wolves and Fulham before the festive period are all but forgotten, having failed to impress against bottom club Birmingham and now, just as disappointingly, against Chris Wilder’s men.

For a side that had been proud to record three clean sheets from five matches under Coleman, they had no answer to Sheffield United’s creativity and willingness to attack. Worse than that, though, they never looked capable of scoring themselves and this set of players have a lot to prove if they want to be part of his plans.

Coleman decided to cancel Christmas by getting his squad in for training on December 25, but his players were happy enough to gift Sheffield United three goals and a victory that lifts them back into the top six.

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More of this and Sunderland will be in League One next season. It took Sheffield United until nine minutes before half-time to secure a deserved lead when John Lundstram picked his spot.

Then Richard Stearman and George Baldock completed the win with two more inside four second half minutes; leaving Coleman arms folded on the touchline pondering where to turn when he takes his team to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

It was always going to be a test for Sunderland at Bramall Lane, where supporters and players are still on a high after last season’s promotion winning campaign. Given the contrasting recent weeks at both clubs, however, this was a better opportunity for the visitors than it was earlier this year.

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Sunderland’s biggest problem was going to be scoring, with 12-goal Lewis Grabban missing with a calf problem. Aiden McGeady, clearly talented and a match-winner on his day, was the man introduced to link with James Vaughan in attack and he was unable to provide the spark required to pose a threat to goalkeeper Simon Moore.

Coleman hoped to see his team – which didn’t record a single shot on target over the 90 minutes - capitalise on a recent stutter which had seen Sheffield United drop out of the play-off zone after a failure to win any of their previous six.

While Wilder’s side may have had some way to go to match Sunderland’s 21-match English record without a home win, he had also been frustrated by two defeats from three winless before this at the Lane – including a 1-1 draw with Birmingham, like Sunderland recorded on Saturday.

But Sunderland just never got going. From the moment Sheffield United went on the attack and earned a free-kick, which came to nothing, inside 60 seconds, the tone had been set. The visitors spent the vast majority of the opening half on the back foot, with Mark Duffy pulling the strings in the hole behind the strikers.

Duffy, who took every set piece, buzzed around in front of the Sunderland defence looking for gaps to thread passes through, and Darron Gibson was never able to keep him check. In fairness, there was an argument he needed extra help in there because of how often that happened.

The only saving grace for Sunderland during that frustrating first half was that goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter didn’t actually have that much to do. Either through his quick thinking or the effectiveness of the defending - from John O’Shea, Ty Browning and Marc Wilson - more often than not, the attacks came to nothing.

Nevertheless it was no surprise when the opening goal arrived in the 36th minute; neither was it a surprise where source of it came from either. Duffy, regularly finding space, rolled a clever pass into the path of the onrushing Lundstram to apply the side-footed, first time finish inside Ruiter’s bottom left corner.

There was a sense of relief all round Bramall Lane when that went in and merely hammered home the point that Sunderland had been awful during that opening period; from their decision making, to their wayward short passes and a lack of urgency overall.

The game could have been over by half-time as well, but Sunderland were fortunate to see Jack O’Connell’s header from Duffy’s corner moments before the whistle drop inches wide. Coleman met that with another look of frustration on his face.

Despite his half-time teamtalk and the decision not to mix things up from the restart, nothing changed. Sheffield United did most of the pressing, Sunderland had to do more of the defending.

It seemed a matter of time before Coleman introduced a change and, too late, that arrived just after the hour and after Sheffield United had extended their lead in the 59th minute.

After Sunderland had earned a couple of free-kicks at one end, Bryan Oviedo – back in the side after injury ahead of Donald Love – conceded one near the right touchline. Duffy then curled in the dead ball and Stearman was left in space to dive and head in off Ruiter’s left hand post.

Worse was to come. Less than four minutes later it was three. This time Sheffield United’s centre-back, given the freedom to attack despite the scoreline, whipped in a fantastic delivery from left-wing and wing-back Baldock coasted in to power a header high into the centre of Ruiter’s net.

Then the changes came. Joel Asoro, Josh Maja and Callum McManaman were all introduced before the end of the match, but nothing could be done about the result.

Sheffield United went into cruise control, including resting key-man Duffy for the final quarter of an hour, and the best Sunderland could muster was a couple of wayward from distance – and the boos rained down the players as they left the pitch.