THIS was more Cheltenham and Doncaster than Leeds and West Brom for Mike Dodds and certainly wasn’t what the interim head coach had in mind in the first game of his third stint in charge of Sunderland.

Dodds exorcised the ghosts of his difficult first spell after Lee Johnson’s exit with a stunning start to his December stint in charge when he guided the Black Cats to hugely impressive victories over Leeds and West Brom. This, though, was a disaster rather than a dream - or that was certainly the case in the first half.

The scoreline – 2-1 to Swansea City – was kind to the hosts, who could have been at least five goals behind after a shambolic opening 45 minutes.

There was at least an improvement in the second half – it couldn’t have been any worse than the first – and captain Luke O’Nien gave the Black Cats some hope with a close range header to halve the deficit. But the leveller that Sunderland wouldn’t have deserved didn’t come, despite Anthony Patterson going close in the dying seconds after charging up for a corner.

The first half was easily as bad as Sunderland have been this season, the hosts booed off at the break after Ronald Pereira Martin’s double put Swansea in complete control. The visitors – who headed for Wearside having won just one of their last seven games and just three points above the relegation zone – threatened to run riot. Ronald could have had a hat-trick, so too his fellow winger Pryzemyslaw Placheta. At the other end, Sunderland’s only two shots on target in the opening period were tame and easily saved by Carl Rushworth.

There was more intensity after the break but a lack of cutting edge, Jack Clarke – unsurprisingly – a huge miss.

Dodds’ first big challenge was finding a way to cope without Clarke and the interim head coach tried to be creative in the absence of his star man. Debutant Callum Styles was one of four changes, with Jenson Seelt replacing the suspended Dan Ballard and Abdoullah Ba and Nazariy Rusyn in for Romaine Mundle and Mason Burstow.

In his three games in charge in December, Dodds opted for a makeshift frontman rather than playing any of the club’s natural strikers and although Ruysn was in from the off here, he wasn’t playing as an orthodox centre-forward. Out of possession, Sunderland set-up in a back three with Styles as the left wing-back but when they had the ball, the debutant was pushing forward into midfield and Bellingham was pushing on as the central striker, with Ba and Ruysn playing either side.

It didn’t work. From the off it looked muddled and twelve minutes had passed before the home side managed to get into Swansea’s area – Rusyn hooking a left-footed shot over the bar.

Come the half hour mark, Sunderland were 2-0 down and it could have been worse. From the get-go, Swansea exploited space out wide behind the wing-backs and it was no surprise that the opening goal was engineered down a flank. Josh Tymon’s cross was met by Liam Cullen’s header and although Anthony Patterson made a fine save to deny the striker, Ronald couldn’t miss on the rebound.

The Brazilian’s second came just nine minutes later, Joe Allen pouncing on a loose pass from Luke O’Nien before teeing up the winger with a sublime pass.

Dodds had his head in his hands and opposition boss Williams must have wondered how the advantage was only two goals at the break. For Sunderland, it could have been much worse.

Placheta could have had a hat-trick. He somehow blazed over from six yards, had a shot deflected just wide and hit the post with a close range header. And Ronald could have had three rather than two, dragging a shot just wide at full stretch after another superb Allen pass.  

Sunderland were a shambles. Dodds recognised things weren’t working and changed the set-up, moving to a back four and shifting Styles over to the right side of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 and there was at least a bit more purpose and intensity to their play in the early stages of the second half.

Pierre Ekwah wasn’t far away with a curling shot from distance and Abdoullah Ba’s flashed drive across the face of goal just needed a touch.  Sunderland desperately need a striker.

Rusyn was honest, game and lively – which couldn’t be said of Belingham and Ba - but never looked like scoring. One second half effort was easily saved by Rushworth.

The captain, O’Nien, lifted spirits and gave Sunderland hope when he headed in an Ekwah free-kick from the left and the Black Cats almost levelled in dramatic circumstances deep in stoppage time when Anthony Patterson went up for a corner and forced a superb save from Rushworth.