When considering the worst team in the Premier League, remember that it wasn't meant to be like this. Not just the results — two points from nine games; six goals scored and 16 conceded — but the whole story. Having saved Sunderland from the drop last season, Sam Allardyce was supposed to spend this season solidifying, organizing, keeping spirits and Sunderland up, and restoring a bit of edge. Instead, he went off to investigate hubris and nemesis at a national level, forcing the team to search for their sixth manager in as many years.
That state of permanent chaos, plans being made and then overwritten, is something that Allardyce's replacement David Moyes alluded to earlier this week. He'd been meeting with supporters' groups to discuss their poor form, and apparently all involved accepted the need for stability.
"Sam Allardyce did a great job keeping the team up, but everybody that has been in has been firefighting, and not had chance to pick it up," Moyes said. "Going back as far as Martin O'Neil and Steve Bruce — all the people that have been here — they've all had similar situations and probably felt the same. They've not had the chance to pick it up. That's why we are saying we need to put something down."
As such, you can see why Moyes might have been the choice. His Everton function is a model for clubs that, like Sunderland, aspire to be an established, secure, and occasionally exciting presence in the Premier League. Yet, the manner of his arrival — late in the summer and largely unanticipated — worked against this theory.
Recruitment was necessarily scattered and underwhelming, which has made the subsequent injuries even more significant. Add to that a woeful lack of creativity in midfield and it's all added up to Sunderland's worst ever start to a Premier League campaign, which is saying something.
The errors that led to West Ham's injury-time winner on Saturday looked, on the face of it, inexplicable. First, the entire defense turned their back on a corner, allowing West Ham to manufacture a two-on-one. Then, when Dimitri Payet stumbled, Winston Reid, noted for his dancing feet, was able to slip the subsequent challenge and right himself. Finally, his shot trundled through a crowded area and into the side of the goal. Some defending is bad. Some is unfortunate. This version barely existed.
Perhaps an answer lies in the larger questions surrounding Moyes himself, of which there are many. "Has he still got it?" and "Is he now an ex-manager?" are probably the most pressing. However, the most persistent question is "At what point did he become the saddest man on the face of the planet?"
After all, there have been moments in each of his previous jobs that would be enough to break the most fortified of spirits. Did something important deep inside snap when he realized that he'd been shouting "Stefano! Stefano!" at a Real Sociedad team that contained not a single Stefano? Or when he was sacked from Manchester United with four games left in the season and his champions dethroned?
Maybe we can go back earlier. Did Moyes experience a soul-breaking moment of clarity — I know how this all ends — as he and his newly inherited United squad cowered on the top floor of a nightclub behind a security cordon? Or possibly to his days at Everton. He took them into the Champions League, and he took them straight back out again.
Moyes introduced one of the brightest prospects in the English game to the first team, and saw him swiped away at the earliest opportunity. And Luis Suarez did a dive right in his face. Whatever the moment, we need only look at him in the Sunderland technical area, slumped on the bench, or hiding behind a fake smile in his post match press conferences, to realize that this is a man now entirely eaten up by the bleak.
Given the way Sunderland are playing, perhaps we might even wonder if Moyes' vast sadness has metastasized into something worse, a more aggressive strain that is leaking out from his haunted eyes and infecting everybody around him. Sunderland don't just look bad; we're used to that. They look hopeless. (No team has dropped more points thanks to goals in the last five minutes than Sunderland.)
Further confirmation came when Moyes decided to blame the officials. Some managers are able to do so in thundering terms, and by doing so, deflect criticism. Others just do it because they can't realistically call everybody on their own side, including themselves, all the things they want to. At least not on television. Moyes, though, went with perhaps the meekest collection of words ever assembled.
"I've looked at the goal back and I've confirmed to the referee that we believe it was offside. The referee believes it was not offside."
The referee was right, of course.
But then, this is what Sunderland are right now. They are meekness in the face of misery. They are Moyes, dangling like a puppet from his final string, telling the world that he has seen fit to inform the referee that he believes in something that isn't even true.