THIS was, according to Phil Parkinson, a game in which Sunderland had to play well. They didn’t. It was billed as a game they couldn’t lose. They did.

Another week, another new low for the club. It’s a familiar story this season.

Parkinson has been in charge for 11 games, mostly abject. There has been little spark, no lift since his appointment when he replaced Jack Ross. The home crowd were united in defeat: “Sacked in the morning” they chanted at their under-pressure and under-fire manager.

In mitigation, it’s not his side, not his players. But they are not performing, lacking belief and any sort of identity.

Even with 20 minutes to go when they trailed to Nigel Clough’s side they couldn’t respond, the manager unable to engineer a positive reaction from his side.

Parkinson hoped that Saturday’s late goal against Coventry, a point-saving strike, would be enough to get the crowd on side.

Before the game he insisted: “I really don’t feel it’s difficult to play at home – if you run around and show energy the supporters get behind the team. I think it’s a bit of an excuse really to say it’s hard to play here.’’

Performances like this make it hard for everyone. Testing for supporters to watch, challenging for the players to play in front of the disappointed crowd. He’s right, they don’t demand much, but even the basics would be a start. As would not losing to Burton Albion.

Maybe they were going to be okay from the off, because it took only four seconds for Max Power to thunder into a tackle and win possession, breaking up Burton in an instant.

Five minutes in and some pressing, chasing, harassing the visiting backline when they wanted to play from the back got the crowd going.

Duncan Watmore, in the side for his pace and ability to drive at the opposition, was held back in full flow, his momentum took him forward, but his cross was cut out.

But the place is an edgy one. It only took one pass from Connor McLaughlin, back from suspension, to put Power under pressure on the edge of his penalty area and the groans were audible.

Football is played on a knife edge by the banks of the River Wear.

Lucas Akins got past right-back McLaughlin, drove to the penalty area and his low, curling shot was diverted wide.

Luke O’Nien hooked the ball forward for Will Grigg. It wasn’t a chance in front of goal, the sort he desperately needs, more an opening out wide to chase in hope. Right back Kieran Wallace was far too strong and brushed him off without fuss.

Grigg would take something, anything to get a chance in front of goal.

Aiden McGeady opened the scoring on 19 minutes, slotting home smartly from the penalty spot.

O’Nein went to ground in the area under a weak challenge after a clearance was smashed straight into Max Power, and the Black Cats were in front.

The home joy lasted a matter of seconds.

Kieran Wallace attacked down the left side, his drive across goal was pushed out by keeper Lee Burge, but only as far as Ryan Edwards and he headed in from close range.

Just when it seems things are looking up, things soon revert to normal. Crowd deflated. Normal service resumed.

Grigg headed on neatly for Watmore, his mazy run took him into the area and his low shot lacked power, but was stopped by the midriff of diving keeper Kieran O’Hare and humped away from danger.

At the other end, the Black Cats should really have gone behind. Some neat possession and sharp passing put Liam Boyce in on goal, but his shot was fired into the near post which was comfortable for Burge to dive towards. An angled drive across the keeper would have been problematic, as it was earlier with the equalising goal.

Grigg was again feeding on long ball scraps, the lone frontman a willing workhorse in chasing balls played in behind. Maybe Parkinson really needs Charlie Wyke back from injury as a targetman and focal point up front. If Parkinson is still around when the striker comes back from injury.

Denver Hume advanced from the back, poked the ball to O’Nien and his goalbound shot was pushed away. Then the left back’s charge upfield almost played in the lively McGeady. The crowd were back on side.

Grant Leadbitter floated a fine ball in for Watmore to latch onto. Grigg burst towards the near post, but suffered more frustration as the ball was blocked.

A mix of light applause and a smattering of boos greeted the half-time whistle.

“Red and White Army” chanted the new Roker End ten minutes into the second-half. A positive atmosphere, surely meant a positive outcome?

Burton’s Jake Buxton went down holding his head, referee Rob Lewis played on. Sunderland pressed, Power powered a rising shot over the bar from 25 yards. The Burton players were furious play was allowed to continue when their captain was down.

When the chance was gone, he then got straight up and carried on as if nothing had happened, didn’t even need treatment.

It helped keep the crowd onside. O’Nien bounced a chance at the keeper from close range. He could have done better.

Burton’s 4-3-3 was becoming more 4-5-1 as they got bodies packed in to try and contain and frustrate. They only got forward on the counter attack, but were capable of causing some edgy moments.

And they soon took the lead. Akins had dropped wide and deep, leaving Boyce as the lone front man.

The former rolled the ball across the six-yard box from the left side for the latter to knock in from close range. It was too routine, too easy. Too predictable even.

That encouragement, belief was soon turned to anger and disappointment.

Akins should have made it three minutes later, this time Boyce’s ball was rolled towards the near post and his team-mate seemed to go for it with his wrong foot, pushing his finish away from goal rather than at it.

Parkinson took off Conor McLaughlin, introducing Chris Maguire in desperate search for an attacking spark and a leveller. It changed little.

His next move was to turn to Benji Kimpioka. On Saturday, the substitute rescued a point with a last-gasp equaliser against Coventry.

The change lifted the crowd, very briefly at least. If securing a 1-1 draw at home to Coventry is a high point under Parkinson, then Sunderland have precious little to get excited about.

The Brewers went close to a game-clinching third on 83 minutes, as a thunderous 25-yard drive from Scott Fraser smashed against the crossbar. Even when the ball dropped six yards out, no red and white shirt looked willing to defend it.

You have to wonder how much the manager and players can be defended.