Sunderland’s Season review (2): reasons to be cheerful

Here in the second of our end of season reviews, Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson hopes the club has learned from mistakes made over the past few seasons, that we have seen the last of the Director of Football model and that any newly appointed Chief Executive will have an understanding of football as well as the law. He looks forward with optimism (again!) hoping that the familiar flirtation with relegation will become a thing of the past.

Reasons to be Cheerful – End of Season Review 2015/16

The biggest celebrations in the Premiership this season just ended were surely those at Leicester City and Sunderland. Now doesn’t it strike you as odd that the joy and relief of a club finishing 17th matched those of the club which finished in 1st place? What does that tell you about Sunderland AFC – a club which spent more time in the bottom three than any other including an abysmal Aston Villa team?

Support never wained
Support never wained
What has happened at Leicester City this season is not something that I expect to see repeated on a yearly basis but surely our club should be aiming to emulate those such as Tottenham, West Ham, Southampton and Everton. With Bournemouth, Watford, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Swansea, Stoke, whisper it Leicester City and one from Hull or Sheffield Wednesday in the same league, surely a top half finish is the least we should be aiming for and should be achievable.

With Premiership survival and its accompanying riches, now assured this is an ideal opportunity for the club to get itself organised, on and off the field and to begin a journey which will see it established securely in the top flight of English football. Hopefully too the powers that be will have learned from some of the off the field mistakes which have done nothing to enhance the reputation of the club and which have hindered its progress as a force in English football.

Our recent flirtations with relegation are in my view the result of mismanagement of the club. Now is a great chance for the owner to show that he has learned from his mistakes and create a structure for success on the field. Achieve that and I believe his business ambitions will take care of themselves.

Lets get cracking Ellis. Photo courtesy of
Lets get cracking Ellis.
Photo courtesy of
Readers may have gained the impression from previous articles of mine that I am anti Ellis Short. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am grateful for the amount of time and money he has invested in the club but I do feel that he has made some poor decisions and been poorly advised.

I am assuming that following the resignation of Margaret Byrne he has been waiting to see which division we would be playing in next season before appointing her replacement but I am also hoping that he is taking his time to find the right person for the job. Someone who understands football and who understands the North East. Hopefully too we have seen the last of the “Director of Football” model and an influx of players that are not rated by those responsible for on field performances. It’s no surprise to me that Aston Villa and Newcastle operated similar recruitment policies and had it not been for that vital 3-0 win at Norwich it would have been us and not The Magpies going down.

I don’t intend to cover old ground dealt with in earlier postings but the recent aquittal of Cabral on rape charges seems to be a perfect example of double standards. If my understanding of the situation is correct his contract was revoked as soon as it became clear that he was to be charged with this most despicable of crimes. But compare and contrast to the Adam Johnson situation where the justification for his continued inclusion in the team was the innocent until proven guilty argument. Naturally I go along with that, but whereas Margaret Byrne at least, was aware of some of the evidence against Johnson, which he admitted, he carried on collecting his wages until he finally entered a guilty plea. Cabral however simply had his contract terminated despite protesting his innocence. It doesn’t take a cynic to point out that the difference between these players was their perceived usefulness to the team but the club has emerged with little credit.

Jake captures the new season optimism in the Fan Zone
Jake captures the new season optimism in the Fan Zone

But that’s in the past now, Margaret Byrne has gone, Lee Congerton has gone. So hopefully is the flawed transfer policy and we have a manager in place who has a whole summer to get us ready for the next campaign.

Dick Advocaat’s return was on the whole greeted with delight on Wearside but the time it took, coupled with a long and arduous tour of North America in sapping heat, meant the squad was seriously underprepared for the opening games of the season. Those games against Leicester and Norwich were embarrassing and though we showed promise in others results weren’t coming. It would appear that Big Dick didn’t rate some of the players brought in – Vergini was shipped out immediately, Kaboul was injury prone, Coates inconsistent and fragile, Yedlin the same. Matthews couldn’t get a game before getting crocked and the club tried hard to get out of the clause which would make Ricky Alvarez a permanent appointment. It would seem that the only players Advocaat actually pushed for were Jeremaine Lens and Ola Toivonen, two players he knew well. They initially looked to be two very good signings but their influence has been negligible over the season as a whole. We wait and see if they’ll be with us next season but I doubt it.

More solid alongside Kone than Coates
More solid alongside Kone than Coates

We all know what happened subsequently and Big Sam must take a lot of credit for what he achieved, even if it took him longer than he, or any of us would have liked. The coaching staff must take credit too as working under his direction, the team has got fitter and fitter until it was able to produce the phenomenal work rates shown in the those crucial games at the back end. Credit them too with the improvement in certain players. They turned two dodgy full backs with pace into solid members of a back four with pace going forward and the stamina to recover their positions when an attack breaks down. Look at Watmore too now, running with his head up rather than staring at the ball at his feet when going forward.

So we do have reasons to be cheerful. A solid central spine with Manonne, Kaboul, Kirchhoff, Cattermole and Defoe. Add to that a much improved full back in van Aanholt, two hard working forwards in Borini and Khazri and we have the makings of a decent team. Of course we need to strengthen.

Sign him up Sam!
Sign him up Sam!
M’Vila (my player of the season) should be a priority and I for one would be happy to have Yedlin back. But we will need another decent fullback, another powerful centre half and a centre forward to give us options up front. I’d be happy to keep Lens and Larsson if they buy into Sam’s approach but happy to see them go if not. Attitude and togetherness is important and since certain players are no longer around the whole squad seems united in its ambitions.

Graham, Gomez, Buckley, Matthews, Bridcutt, Vergini, Giaccherini may or may not be returning but if they do then they need to embrace the work ethic that we have seen without them.

Allardyce says he is to meet with Ellis Short to discuss transfers. Let’s hope he gets the backing he needs, we have as much success in the summer as we had in the January window and he gets his wish that the new Chief Executive is someone who knows football.

My end of season reviews for 2013/14 and 2014/15 both spoke of optimism in August, despair in mid season and relief in May much the same as this one. Once more I’ve renewed my season ticket and am hoping that unlike in the past few years, my close season optimism isn’t dashed before the clocks go back. Will I miss the excitement of another great escape in 12 month’s time if the last match of the season can only determine whether we finish in 8th or 9th spot? I can’t wait to find out!

Ha’way the Lads.

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