"You can never guarantee anyone anything," declares the Aston Villa manager, Paul Lambert, before adding emphatically "but Christian will definitely get through this". You can forgive the contradiction because Christian Benteke tends to get people thinking that way. Last season's hero is becoming a villain to a small, forgetful bunch of Villa fans.
A handful jeered Benteke when he was substituted towards the end of this glum draw. Last season he was a thriving talent in a struggling team. His 23 goals saved Villa from relegation and attracted suitors from all over, yet after suggesting in the summer that he would welcome an upward move, he chose to stay put, signing a contract extension that binds him to Villa until 2017.
He started this season as if his debut campaign in the Premier League had served to make him even better and stronger, as five goals in the first four matches of this term signalled a warning that this destroyer of defences had become even more devastating. And then he went into his shell.
Benteke had one chance against Sunderland and missed it, curling a shot high over from 12 yards. It was not as bad as Emanuele Giaccherini's miss for Sunderland in the first half, when the Italian hit the ball over from three yards, but it was the sort of opportunity Benteke would have devoured last term.
"When you're a footballer on top of your game you just play instinct football, it just comes naturally," Lambert said. "But now maybe you're thinking about too many things, trying to do too many things at one time.
"But I've never seen a player who's always bang at it. Anybody in any walk of life has good days and bad. It builds up your character. When you set yourself that extraordinary standard and then you fall just a blip off it, it can be really noticeable. We just have to make sure we keep him at it."
It is not just that Benteke has stopped scoring, his all-round game is in decline. For a year he was the fulcrum of Villa's attack, now he is on the fringes. Villa seek him with long balls but he only occasionally wins them. He rarely influences play. He looks downcast. What makes that particularly frustrating for Villa is that when Benteke is off form, there is no one else to pick up the slack. No one else has scored in five of the seven matches of his barren streak.
Some supporters are making last season's saviour a scapegoat. They want Libor Kozak, the striker signed from Lazio in the summer, to be given more of a chance to show he can do better. But Lambert is not about to throw this Christian to the lions. "It's really important to build his confidence up, you don't chastise him in any way," Lambert said. "He's 22 years of age."
Man of the match Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland)