Pickford drives up prospective price tag with heroics in defeat at Arsenal
Sunderland took a hint of pride from a combative display at Arsenal but succumbed to overwhelming second-half pressure to lose 2-0 at a subdued Emirates on Tuesday night.
Jordan Pickford, almost certainly reaching the end of his career with the team he supports, was once again a tower of strength in the Sunderland goal with a string of fine saves. He will feel the pain of relegation as keenly as his fellow Wearsiders, but needs Premier League football and is certain to be offered it.
After an even first 45 minutes, in which Sunderland would have led but for a smart Petr Cech save from Jermain Defoe, Arsenal dominated despite a shaky start to the second half and might well have won more heavily. But David Moyes' defence held firm until Alexis Sanchez pounced late, twice in nine minutes, to keep alive Arsenal's hopes of a top-four finish.
Sunderland at least played with the endeavour and passion wholly missing from Saturday's terrible home defeat, albeit by the same scoreline, to Swansea. They owe it to their fans to offer the same spirit in Sunday's finale, the top-versus-bottom match at Chelsea, however frightening the quality gap may be.
After abject surrender to Swansea in the final home game of a 10-year stay in the top flight, Sunderland lost by the same margin but in entirely different circumstances, having at least put up a recognisable fight. And Pickford was magnificent in goal.
When the only hope of scoring is from the scraps fed to Defoe, or speculative long-range shots, a mere ability to show tenacity and resolve is never going to be enough.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Moyes set up his side as well as limited resources allow, with a three-man central defence, and he at least impressed on his players the need to treat the game seriously.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 9 -- One save after another with hands, fists and feet saved Sunderland from a hammering and probably added a little to his price tag.
DF Javier Manquillo, 6 -- Sunderland were always vulnerable on the flanks, but he stuck to his task.
DF Billy Jones, 7 -- Combined strong tackling with decent reading of the game and made useful forward forays. A little unfortunate after marking Sanchez so tightly, especially in the first half, to see the Chilean wriggle free to score both Arsenal goals.
DF John O'Shea, 7 -- Back to his safe, capable marshalling of the back line.
DF Lamine Kone, 6 -- Never completely in command but played his part in keeping out Arsenal with blocks, interceptions and safety-first clearances.
DF Bryan Oviedo, 5 -- Occasionally looked rusty after injury and exposed, like Manquillo, as Arsenal attacked from the wings.
MF Didier Ndong, 5 -- A predictably infuriating mixture: spells of assured, intelligent play and wasteful use of the ball.
MF Sebastian Larsson, 7 -- Another commendable and industrious display, with some threatening set-piece kicking to add to unlimited effort.
MF Lee Cattermole, 7 -- A fair return from yet another injury, breaking up attacks and seeking out Defoe with probing passes.
MF Fabio Borini, 6 -- Offered abundant energy and went close with an acrobatic attempt on goal towards the end.
FW Jermain Defoe, 7 -- Ran intelligently whenever a through ball looked promising and had the first half's best attempt on goal, smartly saved by Cech.
MF Lynden Gooch, N/R -- The American midfielder was calm in all he did, with some crisp passing and a positive approach.
MF Adnan Januzaj, N/R -- Packed as much into 11 minutes on the field than has been seen from him all season. One good run nearly produced a consolation goal.
MF Darron Gibson, N/R -- Arrived too late, the game already beyond Sunderland, to have a chance of making an impact.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland