TWO North-East clubs visiting Ashton Gate to face Bristol City – two very similar outcomes. The harsh parallels between defeats, firstly for Middlesbrough and latterly for Sunderland, were unmistakable.

On both occasions, the North East sides dominated proceedings against a team finding its way following ex-Boro skipper Nigel Pearson’s sacking as manager. But twice they proved to be their own worst enemies as they both capitulated during first-half spells of chaos that called into question whether they are real promotion contenders or just play-off pretenders.

Boro conceded twice when they lost the plot and gallantly fought back to level before ended up losing 3-2, and there were echoes of that topsy-turvy game when the Wearsiders headed to the South West.

Afterwards, Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil lamented a “ten-minute period of madness where we became slack and sloppy” and “have been stung and punished for it”.

Following a positive start with Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke looking particularly bright and Alex Pritchard impressing, the Black Cats crucially lost control midway through the first half when their attempts to play their way out from defence backfired.

Goalkeeper Anthony Patterson put Neil into trouble and ended up conceding a penalty when he felled midfielder Taylor Gardner-Hickman on the edge of the penalty box. Patterson was unable to redeem himself as he guessed incorrectly when Tommy Conway stepped up to take the spot-kick on 20 minutes and, out of the blue, the Robins had a lead they would not surrender.


It could have been worse as Anis Mehmeti’s shot struck a post and then Patterson had to stretch every sinew to claw away Gardner-Hickman’s curling effort, right in front of the 2,6000 bemused Wearsiders in the Atyeo Stand.

“It was a good performance and we absolutely dominated them overall but what killed us was that period where the whole team with mistake after mistake,” Neil added. “We probably got away with one when there was a penalty appeal early on and didn't for the second one.

“In a nutshell, we’ve battered them, but a lack of concentration cost us and we struggled to break them down afterwards. Bristol City are a hard-working side it didn’t help that their keeper had an absolute worldie.”

Neil was spot-on there because once Sunderland got going after a half-time blast from interim head coach Mike Dodds, they held the upper hand for most of the contest as the hosts defended deeply.

But goalkeeper Max O’Leary proved to be an impregnable last line of defence for Liam Manning’s side and pulled off a string of good saves, including two top-notch stops to keep out headers from skipper Luke O’Nien and substitute Jobe Bellingham.

Sunderland pushed bodies forward in their quest for an equaliser and their ambition was almost punished when Harry Cornick broke clear before stumbling with just Patterson to beat.

That escape teed up a frenetic finale that saw Dan Ballard fume after his appeals for a penalty were waved away following Cam Pring’s challenge deep into stoppage time.

Incoming Sunderland manager Michael Beale, who steered clear of Bristol but watched proceedings via a live stream, will surely fancy his chances of tackling the shortcomings that proved so costly.

And Dodds is confident that Beale is on to a good thing at the Stadium of Light despite the blow to the club’s promotion push.

“It’s a club that’s on the up massively,” Dodds said. “Regardless of who the new head coach is, they’ll come into an unbelievable dressing room. There are so many really talented players in there and it's a young group that is only going to improve.

“Our Academy of Light is a great training ground, not only in terms of facilities, but also in terms of culture and lads who want to get better and are determined to do well for the club.

“When they asked me to take the team for these three games my mindset was that I wanted to get nine points from because I know what this club has. We shouldn’t be coming away from here losing. That's why I’m frustrated.”