MAYBE the manager wasn’t the only problem after all. Phil Parkinson might have gone, but Sunderland’s debilitating weaknesses were apparent in his wake last night as they recorded their third 1-1 draw in a row against Burton Albion. The more things change on Wearside, the more the scoreline remains the same.

Burton started last night in the League One relegation zone, yet by the final whistle, it was Sunderland’s players who looked down and out despite Max Power sparing at least some of their blushes with an 85th-minute equaliser. If any of the Black Cats’ managerial candidates were watching the action unfold, Gus Poyet might not be the only person concluding a spell in the Stadium of Light hotseat is not for him.

Remi Matthews’ calamitous second-half error was the decisive moment in the game prior to Power’s late header, with the Sunderland goalkeeper spilling Joe Powell’s long-range strike into the path of Charles Vernam, who tapped home.

Yet for all that Matthews committed a howler, it was a series of much more deep-rooted failings that ultimately proved the Black Cats’ undoing. Pedestrian and predictable in attack, remarkably risk-averse in midfield and lacking pace and penetration all over the pitch, Sunderland looked every inch a side treading water in mid-table in the third tier.

Will anyone be able to change that? With Poyet having dramatically ruled himself out of the running to be Sunderland’s next manager yesterday afternoon, the likelihood of the Black Cats hierarchy going for a tried-and-tested League One manager has increased markedly.

Paul Cook? Danny Cowley? Both boast extensive experience of life in the third tier, but would either be capable of succeeding where both Parkinson and Jack Ross have failed? Could either elicit a significant improvement from a group of players that, aside from a very occasional week or two, have spent their entire League One existence hovering around the fringe of the play-off places?

Is it Sunderland’s last two managers that have been at fault, or are the players simply not good enough? Time will tell, but the evidence of the opening two-and-a-half months of the season suggests whoever becomes the Black Cats’ 18th permanent manager since the turn of the century will have their work cut out if they are to mount a successful push for automatic promotion. Last night’s game certainly did nothing to dispel that notion.

Andrew Taylor will not be filling the managerial position permanently – although this being Sunderland, such an eventuality would hardly be the strangest thing that has happened in the last few seasons – but the former Middlesbrough full-back nevertheless made something of a statement selection ahead of his first game as caretaker last night.

By handing Elliot Embleton a first league start since the opening day of last season, Taylor did something Parkinson had steadfastly refused to do throughout his reign. Parkinson justified his ostracism of Aiden McGeady by claiming he did not want the Irishman to get in the way of his desire to promote youth, then failed to hand a single league start to Embleton, Jack Diamond or Dan Neil. Two days into his current role, and Taylor was adopting a different tack.

Embleton started alongside Josh Scowen in the pocket behind Charlie Wyke, although Sunderland’s lone striker only lasted 25 minutes before a knock forced him to hobble from the field. He was replaced by Danny Graham, although the Black Cats’ attacking limitations were apparent no which centre-forward was on the pitch.

Sunderland might have enjoyed plenty of possession throughout last night’s game, but for long periods they created next to nothing. Why? A lack of pace was a major factor, just as it has been all season, if not for the entire duration of the Black Cats’ time in the third tier.

Burton’s defenders only ever had to worry about what was happening in front of them because on no occasion did a Sunderland player attempt to burst behind the opposition’s back four. With both Wyke and Graham essentially static target-men, the Black Cats desperately needed a runner able to stretch the game and pick up lay-offs or flick-ons from their central striker. Instead, everything happened slowly in the central third, making Burton’s defensive task little more taxing than a training exercise.

Sunderland’s best chance of a low-key first half came after just four minutes, and it was telling that it came courtesy of a centre-half breaking into the box rather than a midfielder. Conor McLaughlin broke beyond his team-mates to get into the penalty area, but his low shot was directed straight at Brewers goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara.

Josh Scowen headed over towards the end of the opening period, but for all that the hosts knocked the ball around neatly in unthreatening areas, their lack of a cutting edge in the final third was a chronic handicap.

In fairness, Burton were no more threatening, although given their position in League One’s relegation zone, the visitors could be forgiven for having limited ambition. Michael Bostwick glanced a first-half header from a corner straight at Matthews, but Sunderland’s defence never really looked like being breached.

O’Hara was having a similarly trouble-free night in the Burton goal, although the visiting goalkeeper was called into action five minutes after the break.

It said much that it took a mishit for Sunderland to fashion an opportunity, with Embleton’s attempted shot from inside the penalty area only succeeding in deflecting Hume’s cross towards Scowen. The midfielder had to twist awkwardly to bundle the ball goalwards from the edge of the six-yard box, and O’Hara was able to get down to save.

The Burton goalkeeper was involved again six minutes later, claiming Embleton’s header after the youngster failed to make the most of an excellent delivery from Power on the right.

Sunderland started the second half attempting to build up a head of steam, but were rocked when Burton opened the scoring from nowhere on the hour mark.

Matthews had performed reasonably effectively in his first three league games since replacing Lee Burge, but he was badly at fault in his fourth as he failed to hold on to Powell’s seemingly innocuous long-range shot.

Matthews should have held on to the bouncing ball easily, but it rebounded off his chest into the path of Vernam, who was able to tap home.

Sunderland fashioned a couple of decent opportunities as they scrambled for an equaliser, but were unable to take either.

First, Grigg thumped a near-post header against the right-hand post after Luke O’Nien crossed from the right. Then, a minute or so later, his fellow substitute, Graham, fired a low shot straight at O’Hara before stabbing the rebound wide of the upright.

However, just when it looked as though Sunderland were heading for an embarrassing defeat, Power popped up to claim an equaliser. The Black Cats skipper broke purposefully into the area to meet Hume’s left-wing cross, and steered a powerful downward header past O’Hara.