Gus Poyet summed up his team's performance succinctly. "Shocking," he said. "It was shocking." Sunderland's manager took no consolation from the kind words delivered by Chris Hughton, Norwich's manager and a long-standing friend who, rather generously, suggested that Poyet's bottom-placed side can still stay up.
"It's nice for him to say so but I was expecting more from us," Poyet said. "I was disappointed. I was expecting to win but technically we were as bad as any team I've seen at the foot of the table. In the first half we were awful. There were passes that scared me a lot. People were needing three touches. It was shocking. It could be nerves, it could be pressure, it could be quality. I don't know but I think it gave us a clear picture of why we are bottom. There were no excuses."
Sunderland's problem is that every triumph – the Premier League wins against Newcastle United and Manchester City, and last Tuesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final victory over Chelsea – seem invariably followed by bouts of serious regression. Here the £6.5m USA striker Jozy Altidore's appalling first touch and woeful decision-making not only simplified life for Sébastien Bassong and Michael Turner, Norwich's competent centre-halves, but appeared emblematic of his team's travails.
"Every time we do something nice the next game is worse," said Poyet, who could have done without Wes Brown's late, straight red card for a reckless challenge on Ricky van Wolfswinkel. "It's difficult, it's not nice and you don't enjoy it. If I'm the problem, I will accept the responsibility. I'm the manager and the one picking the team. If I'm not good enough I'll take it."
The last thing Ellis Short, Sunderland's owner, needs is a resignation. Sunderland have improved under Paolo Di Canio's successor but, with the squad low on quality and with too many imports still adapting to England's top division, progress is frustratingly slow.
"Gus Poyet is one of the best managers I've played under at any club," said Fabio Borini, the gifted Liverpool loanee forward and – the assured Vito Mannone apart – their best player against Norwich. "I'm angry because we can't win in the league. We need to show a little more character and control. Today felt like losing."
Borini wants Sunderland supporters to help the team through a difficult transition to the patient possession game preached by Poyet. "The fans need to understand how we play football," he said. "Sometimes they're pushing us forward when we don't need to go forward. We're not playing English football, just kicking forward, any more, we're trying to build something. We need to play our game not the game other people want."
Sunderland's gameplan was exactly what an improving, if slightly unambitious, Norwich, always content to secure a draw, desired. "An away point is not to be sniffed at," said Robert Snodgrass, their wide midfielder. "Earlier this season we would have lost but our togetherness showed."
Until a few weeks ago Hughton was tipped for the sack but, incrementally, Norwich have rallied, moving into mid-table. "It's quite a turnaround," Snodgrass said. "But you'll never see a manager who works harder than Chris. He's there until 7pm looking to do better for the boys. He never loses faith in us and he doesn't panic. I'd be delighted if he won December's manager of the month award."
Sunderland's players have already ensured that Hughton will definitely face no competition from his old pal Poyet.
Man of the match Michael Turner (Norwich City)