SUNDERLAND have had some desperate times at the Stadium of Light in recent seasons. For 12 thoroughly miserable months, the Black Cats failed to record a single victory at their own ground, so it seems utterly remarkable that Jack Ross and his players have managed to engineer a new low.

Yet by suffering a barely-believable 5-4 defeat to Coventry City, that is exactly what the current squad have achieved. For all their previous failings, prior to Saturday, Sunderland had never conceded five goals in a game at the Stadium of Light.

You had to go back to November 1981, and a 5-1 home defeat to Manchester United at Roker Park, to find the last time a Sunderland side shipped five goals in a home game. Frank Stapleton bagged a brace on that occasion, with Bryan Robson chipping in with another of Manchester United’s goals. With the greatest of respect to Bright Enobakhare, Amadou Bakayoko, Jordy Hiwula, Jordan Shipley and Conor Chaplin, Coventry’s weekend goalscorers are hardly in that class.

They were still much too good for Sunderland’s defenders to handle though, and while it might be tempting to write off Saturday’s events as a once-in-a-generation freak occurrence, it would be dangerous to ignore the failings that were exposed as Coventry’s attacking midfielders ran riot.

For all that the Black Cats have been challenging for promotion all season, their defending has rarely been watertight. They have only kept five clean sheets at home, and while the scale of Saturday’s capitulation might have been unexpected, there have plenty of warning signs to suggest such a collapse was possible.

Is personnel to blame? To a degree, unquestionably. Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin have spent the majority of their career playing in League One, so their limitations should not be too much of a surprise. They were extremely poor at the weekend, serving up a succession of individual errors that were ruthlessly punished. Having performed consistently well since switching to right-back, Luke O’Nien’s performance level also collapsed.

However, personal failings only tell part of the story. Sunderland caved in defensively because they were ripped apart in midfield, with Coventry’s pace and incision on the counter-attack repeatedly prising their opponents apart.

Enobakhare caused all kinds of problems by dropping into the ‘number ten’ role, with the defensive limitations inherent in Sunderland’s 4-4-2 system apparent throughout. If Coventry broke quickly when a Sunderland attack broke down, the Black Cats did not have the defensive numbers to cope, with the home side’s inability to contain their opponents evident from first minute to last.

The introduction of Lee Cattermole might have helped to plug some of the gaps, but Ross defended his substitutions by insisting he had to bring on attacking players to chase the game. In that case, shouldn’t a change of tactics at least have been considered?

Doncaster Rovers, who visit the Stadium of Light on Friday, will watch a replay of the weekend game and start licking their lips, but having built Sunderland’s recovery around an open, expansive playing style, Ross is adamant he is not about to change his ways. If the Black Cats are to fail this season – and despite Saturday’s setback, it should not be forgotten that an automatic promotion place is still in their own hands – they will go down with all guns blazing.

“It’s (a more defensive approach) not the way we train, it’s not the way we prepare and it’s not the way we’ve been doing things since the start of the season,” said Ross. “Personnel wise, we have a lot of players that want to play on the front foot. We have to be conscious of that.

“I can understand that when you’ve been involved in a game where you score four goals and don’t win, questions are going to be asked. But equally, we’re 41 games into a season and we’re in a position where our destiny is in our own hands.

“We’re in that position because we’ve played well, and to be in a position where you can get yourself promoted, you have to be a decent team. I think that’s sometimes overlooked, and I think it’s sometimes downplayed a bit because we’re Sunderland. The other teams at the top get told they’re good teams, but for us it’s just seen as par for the course.

“We’ve got to this stage through trying to be as bold as we can be. Sometimes we’ve only scored one goal in a game, but we’ve always tried to approach things that way. That’s not going to change, but at the same time, we’ll reflect on what’s the best way to play on Friday in terms of how we set up and how they play.

“We’ll look at that in every game for the rest of the season, and it certainly won’t be a case of being gung-ho just for the sake of being gung-ho. But we know what we’re good at and that’s served us well so far.”

It didn’t work at the weekend, and for all that Sunderland’s players displayed commendable spirit to equalise on three separate occasions, the fact they were never ahead in the game tells its own story. They might only have lost by one goal in the end, but the Black Cats could not complain about the final outcome.

Enobakhare broke the deadlock with a low finish after O’Nien gave the ball away, and while Sunderland hit back immediately through George Honeyman’s deflected strike, Coventry established a two-goal lead thanks to Bakayoko’s low finish and a shot from Hiwula that found the net via a deflection off Baldwin.

The biggest positive from a Sunderland perspective was the performance of Charlie Wyke, with the striker causing havoc in the Coventry box. He scored his side’s second goal after Lee Burge made a mess of trying to deal with Bryan Oviedo’s cross, and provided the knock-down that enabled Will Grigg to equalise on the stroke of half-time.

Sunderland were fortunate to be level at the break, but they fell behind again in the 55th minute as Bakayoko teed up Shipley to drive home from the edge of the area.

Max Power’s low strike levelled things up again, but the decisive act came with 11 minutes left and saw Chaplin turn neatly in the area before firing into the roof of the net.

“I can’t remember being involved in a game like that,” said Ross. “It was a ridiculous afternoon at times, but it’s one of those where if you come out the right side of it, it’s a brilliant afternoon for everyone. But when you come out on the wrong side of nine goals, it’s painful.”