THE 11 yellow-shirted players who trooped off the pitch at Sunderland's Stadium of Light after Saturday's 7-0 humiliation were branded "a disgrace to Oxford United Football Club".

Malcolm Shotton's team crashed to the heaviest defeat in the club's history as they caved in during an inept second-half display.

The club's previous worst defeat came in 1986 when Oxford were beaten 6-0 by Liverpool at Anfield - but that season Liverpool took many teams apart on their way to a League Championship and FA Cup double.

On Saturday, Peter Reid's Sunderland did not even have their first-choice strikers Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. Yet their replacements, Michael Bridges and Danny Dichio both struck two goals and so did substitute Alex Rae.

Shotton was too upset to attend the post-match press conference but his assistant Mark Harrison did - and ripped into the players.

"We caved in. It was embarassing and a disgrace to Oxford United Football Club," he said. "We're not happy about it and it's about time the players stood up to be counted. Our senior players cost us goals badly and we showed a lack of character right through the team."

Harrison added: "We're shell-shocked. We were steam-rollered. The second way was one-way traffic.

"Phil Whitehead made maybe two saves and Sunderland hit the bar but apart from that everything they hit went into the net.

"You can pick fault for the whole 90 minutes. You've got to work as a unit but up front we didn't work or hold it up or compete, Sunderland won too much second ball, we dropped off too deep, they were running at us, their wide men were running riot, they had so many midfield players running on, their two front men Bridges and Dichio caused problems and did things at will. They dominated us. "Sunderland's performance was excellent but we allowed them to be excellent. You have to go out there and earn you right to play . . . you can't just stroll around. You have to do you own job as individuals but we didn't and now these individuals have to stand up and be counted.

"I feel for Malcolm" Harrison said. "He's a man full of pride who works himself into the ground for the players, works to give them the best and we do what we can at the club with limited resources - and when he comes back to the north-east where he's from that's the sort of repayment he gets.

"Malcolm hasn't spoken to the players, he can't speak. We sat in the dressing room and nobody said a word. I just thought 'how many records will that have created today?' "

Midfielder Martin Gray, the only Oxford player to fight right through the game, said: "We all let outselves down. You can't really say our young players were over-awed by it - we all let ourleves down. "The last thing the boss said before we went out was to try to keep it quiet for 25 minutes and what do we do? We concede two goals in the first six minutes and then we're chasing.

"It must have been like Christmas for Sunderland to get seven goals. We worked hard at the back end of last week on stopping their wide players but we didn't do it."

Sunderland boss Reid wasn't even that impressed with his team.

"I would not say that is our best performance since I became manager," he declared.

"It could have been been better but perhaps I'm a perfectionist. In the second half we were magnificent, quick on the break, good quick passing and some very good finishing.

"It's a great result though and I'm very pleased - but you don't win anything in September."

"I caught up with Shotton later in the day and he still seemed in a state of shock. And he gave a clear hint to United's Board that they can either find some backers to inject money for new players, or see the club slip out of the division never to compete with the likes of Sunderland again.

"You can only get so much out of your players and when their tongues are hanging out you know there's no more you can get out of them," he said.

"We've got to look at which way we want to go now because, one thing's for certain, when you come up against the kind of players that they can just bring in when they get injuries with the kind of squad we have when we get injuries, we just can't cope."

Shotton played in the 6-0 1986 defeat at Liverpool. He said: "Sunderland are very good and are possibly going to go on and win this league. That Liverpool side went on to win the league - but that was in the top division. That't the difference."

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