The Black Cats surrendered a place in the quarter-finals of the League Cup without a fight as Scott McDonald's strike ensured Boro victory in the Wear-Tees derby at the Stadium of Light. Boos echoed around the ground after the full-time whistle and there is a growing sense of concern among supporters, who have seen their team win just three of their 11 games in all competitions this campaign. The Black Cats were outplayed and out-classed by their Championship rivals with Martin O'Neill's side struggling to put their opponents under any pressure.
Even with the front pairing of Steven Fletcher and Louis Saha, the Black Cats looked blunt up top and, as has been the case in recent weeks, neither wide men made an impact. Now, though, the Black Cats must dust themselves off for Saturday's Premier League visit of Aston Villa to the Stadium of Light and given their supporters' reaction to defeat on Tuesday, another disappointing performance would pile more pressure on O'Neill and his men.
O'Shea was honest in this post-match assessment of the Black Cats display and the former Manchester United centre- back admits the players let themselves, O'Neill and the supporters down.
"It's devastation really. Chances to get into the quarter- finals of a cup don't come around every week and we've let ourselves down." O'Shea said.
"Middlesbrough came with a good game plan and we just came up with no ideas to break it down. It was quite comfortable for them. We couldn't keep them under any consistent pressure. We need to drastically improve on this very quickly because we have a massive game now on Saturday against Aston Villa.
"We have to improve on a lot of things and it will start straight away as soon as the lads come into training. We will have a look back at a couple of things but we have to pick ourselves up very quickly."
Sunderland enjoyed a great run in the FA Cup last season when they reached the quarter- final stage and that formed part of a 22-game run in which they lost only six times. Last night's defeat was only their second of the campaign, but that doesn't hide the fact that they have drawn six times and failed to score four times in all competitions. O'Shea admits those draws must start turning into wins or the Black Cats risk being sucked into a battle at the wrong end of the table. He said:
"It's a hiccup, but it's a big one because of the type of game it is. We have to be creating more chances, especially at home, and we need to start playing like a team and that is the main thing we will be working on for Saturday.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work over the next few days but we will make sure that our attitude is spot on, make sure we show the right commitment and we need to score goals and win matches.
"It's okay drawing games, but if eventually you keep drawing games then it's a risky game. We are a strong team and we know we need more goals"