Coleman’s challenge: turning football’s laughing stock into reasons to be cheerful

Jake: ‘time to rise to the task’

Beyond blind faith, a commodity in large if diminishing supply among Sunderland supporters, perhaps the main source of hope for an unexpected victory at Villa Park is the power of new manager bounce.

But what a fillip it would give to the demoralised faithful to be able, for only the second time this season, to celebrate the final whistle rather than be left ruing missed chances and the inability to defend or even obtain a lead.

Even a draw at promotion-chasing Villa, denying bragging rights to Steve Bruce, as beastly a bĂȘte noire to Sunderland fans as they come, would be encouraging and – with a visit to lowly Burton Albion next up – give new complexion to match previews for this weekend.

Victory at Villa Park would mean emphatically more than the three precious points. It has been said here far too often this season but remains the case: even a couple of wins would transform the morale of players as well as supporters. Gary Bennett, who served Sunderland nobly as a player and is now a pundit, has used the expression “laughing stock” to sum up the glaring deficiencies of the club he grew to love, and it hardly overstates the malaise.

Other managers, most recently Millwall’s Neil Harris, talk of Sunderland’s squad possessing genuine quality; since Chris Coleman must work with that squad until the January transfer window gives him – or so we hope – room for manoeuvre, he has to provide the inspiration and leaderhip to ensure that quality makes itself felt before bottom place begins to appear our natural habitat.

Jake: ‘can Coleman deliver?’

The phenomenon of new manager bounce has been exaggerated. It certainly did not work for Gus Poyet (a 4-0 thrashing at Swansea to greet my first game of that season), for example, and it did not work for David Moyes either at Sunderland (the infamous quote about being in a relegation battle after just two games) or West Ham, comfortably beaten by Watford on Sunday.

Coleman has talked passionately about moving from the Wales managerial post to the Stadium of Light, describing Sunderland in his early comments as a club “on the edge” – blunt though hardly unfair – but also one where “something special awaits”.

He is the latest addition to a list of recent Sunderland managers that is longer than the way it is sometmes presented. Since both Niall Quinn and Ricky Sbragia were, for short periods, managers of the club and not merely caretakers, that makes Coleman the 12th boss in just over 11 years.

It is heartening to see the warm welcome from supporters for the apppointment, widely seen as the best the club could have been expected to make in such grim circumnstances. Most of the doubts raised have been from outsiders, either questioning his record at club level or – as in the case of Joey Barton, whose opinions are typically louder than their value – suggesting he deserved better.

Can Coleman succeed where others have struggled?

Tonight, at Villa Park, he will be face to face with a man who may have left Sunderland under a cloud, and then done his best to darken the cloud further with disparaging comments since his dismissal, but also gave the club its only top 10 Premier League finish since the heady days of Peter Reid.

If Coleman, without the baggage Bruce brought to the job (never forget that his fellow Newcastle Unuted supporters delighted in calling him Agent Bruce when he managed SAFC), can emulate that achievement within two or three seasons, he will be seen as ever bit as much a saviour as Reid.

Then, he would need to do no more than avoid the steep decline that began after the second of Reid’s back-to-back seventh-top seasons. And if Chris Coleman can rise to that tall order, he will deserve the Freedom of Sunderland.

Next Post