From Sunderland to Plymouth: a tale of two managers

Courtesy: A Love Supreme

Steve Bruce had every right to rub the noses of media pundits in the mess of Stoke City’s collapse at the Stadium of Light.

Football, as Plymouth Argyle said in a club statement justifying the sacking of one of Bruce’s Sunderland predecessors, Peter Reid, is a results business.

One of those results – four-nil, without hint of flattery in the scoreline against a team that started the day fourth top, enabled Bruce to gloat at the expense not of Tony Pulis but of the sportswriters (and broadcasters, though he was careful not to mention this when speaking to them) who had predicted his imminent sacking.

The other result, Plymouth’s eighth successive defeat leaving them rooted to the bottom of League Two and facing a humiliating exit from the Football League, was enough to persuade Argyle it was time to dump Reid.

Courtesy: A Love Supreme

It is doubtful whether Sir Alex Ferguson, with Pep Guardiola as his number two, could have done a jot better and it is highly unlikely that either would have matched Reid’s commitment and worked without pay, settled heating bills or auctioned medals to help the club stay afloat.

Back to Bruce. It does not matter how many times he or his players say otherwise: ours was, until yesterday, a rotten start to the season. The draw at Anfield was commendable, though the second-half rally would have been too little had Liverpool taken their chances earlier. The home defeat to Newcastle was bitterly disappointing, the draw at Swansea did little to suggest a team capable of challenging for a European place and the boys-against-men display at home to Chelsea stirred familiar concerns.

In none of the interviews I have seen or read does the manager so much as mention the feeble exit from the earliest stage of the Carling Cup, against a team newly promoted from League One.

But yes, he is entitled to argue that there was a loss of perspective. Four iffy league games and one cup flop do not amount to disaster. The dismantling of Stoke City was an impressive response to the criticism, all the more so because experience had prepared most Sunderland supporters for a decidedly nervous afternoon rather than a romp.

Equally, though, one grand victory does not represent a comprehensive turn-round. Bruce still has a lot of work to do if he is to win the hearts and minds of doubters, who can be found far from the fevered environment of tabloid newspaper offices and continue to voice reservations about some of his key decisions.

The Chelsea match was sufficiently depressing to have me wavering last week, especially when I reflected on where Gyan’s departure left us in terms of seasoned strike power. I had been firmly in the wait-and-see camp, if you can be firm about dithering in that way, and realised I was beginning to lean towards a need for action. I should have stuck to my guns – four, even five games is far too early to contemplate a potentially disruptive change – and have returned to them now.

But that is not an end to the matter.

Sunderland must now go on to show 4-0 yesterday was no flash in the pan, as 3-0 at Chelsea proved to be last season, but merely a start. It is imperative that we go to Norwich a week tonight and play as convincingly as we did against Stoke. Games against Norwich, West Brom, Arsenal and Bolton – the next four opponents – should be a run to produce a lot of points.

As for Plymouth Argyle and its chairman, Peter Ridsdale, can it be said that they deserve each other?

Monsieur Salut

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11 thoughts on “From Sunderland to Plymouth: a tale of two managers”

  1. I’m very curious to see the team Bruce fields at Norwich and the tactics he employs. While the standard of football was way better, I agree with Jeremy that Stoke weren’t as strong as they could’ve been. I think we’d have beaten them anyway but not as convincingly.
    One good result after all those bad ones isn’t enough to convince me that we’re on the right track. A good win at Norwich will go a long way. But it’s by no means cut and dried. They have a bit of confidence now.
    Meanwhile, I’m very glad to have Bendtner up front and not Crouch, as SB seemed to have his heart set upon for so long. As for Cattermole – let him warm the bench until the January window opens and then shove him through it.

  2. Yes Pete. Possibly a little harsh. I agree that the football was better. More movement and a more threatening tempo than in previous weeks. Someone commented on blackcats that being on the bench gave Cattermole the opportunity to have his best game for us. I couldn’t agree more. The guile and awareness of David Vaughan made a huge difference. What a good footballer he is, and why Bruce has not given him more playing time just baffles me.

    I do feel that had we played Stoke this coming weekend then we would have had a tougher time of it. They may not be pretty, but they are effective and were way below par in even competing with us.

  3. Harsh words, Jeremy, old mate. The team looked much more balanced now that we have lost Cattermole from the starting XI. I understand the ornithological references to swallows, but lets hope that the improvement continues. Stoke were made to look poor by the much higher tempo that we adopted.
    Plymouth will do very well to see the season out, by all accounts. Reidy is well out of it. He can return to Yarm and have a drink with Catts – as long as they go to Stokesley for it!!

  4. Agree completely about what’s being said here. The appalling last nine months can not be eradicated by 90 minutes against a Stoke side missing their usual will to win. The trip to Kiev had clearly taken a huge toll on their players and had we not been gifted goals so easily then it would have probably been a different story.

    As for Reidy. Well, Ridsdale is a disgrace to football, whose purpose in life seems to be to take football clubs to the brink of extinction.

  5. Reidy is a hero, I’d much rather have him at SOL instead of Steve Bruce. Much respect to Reidy for all he has done

  6. salutsunderland-I absolutely agree. It is also the case that Bruce has negotiated a very lucrative contract for himself and unlike poor Peter Reid at Plymouth, Bruce is being more than amply remunerated for his services. Many supporters are feeling the full impact of the economic downturn, and are right to question the team’s results in the light of Bruce’s professional role and the amount of money he is being paid by the club. It is the supporters money that goes towards his salary. Criticism comes with the territory. The modern game is one in which at the top level managers and players are very high earners, and with that comes responsibility, and the acceptance of the flack if you fail to deliver. I am the first to question the kind of football culture that has developed in the last twenty years , in which there are higher and higher stakes, but that is how it is.

  7. If Steve Bruce refused to see the press afterwards, while blithely granting broadcast interviews, which is the impression gained from reading today’s Guardian match report, then my respect for him would be diminished.

    Hilary is absolutely right in saying supporters and press have a right to be critical and it would be disingenuous of Bruce to suggest that his managerial performance is not also called into question in the electronic media. I’d make it a punishable offence, as in top-class tennis, to refuse to attend the post-match press conference. Once there, he is fully entitled to deal with questions as he sees fit. Attendance should not be an option.

  8. With Gyan gone and Bendtner in we hopefully now have a settled squad. Against Newcastle we played some good football without ever threatening to score. Yesterday, we added an attacking element and hopefully we can continue to build on that. Yesterday confirmed that the best thing was not to get Peter Crouch. The designer shops of the north-east may be poorer, but SAFC can only benefit.

  9. As hilary correctly reminds us it’s about the past nine months, not just the first four games of this season. Bruce once again reminded us that last season’s finish was the third best for God knows how many years but conveniently overlooked an almost impossible combination of results from the other matches played that day. We could easily have finished 16th on another day.

    One swallow doesn’t make a summer and whilst I have been (and still am) in the give him more time camp, yesterday’s result needs to be the catalyst that kick starts the season. More of the same and the smiles will be back. A return to the negative and unproductive play that we have seen far too much of recently and his job’s still on the line.

  10. I agree with everything that has been said here. I feel very sorry for Peter Reid, who has been so committed to Plymouth and treated so badly. However, despite a good win, I felt that Bruce’s post match BBC interview was the usual inappropriately self obsessed affair. It was all about him as a manager feeling hard done by and vindicated, not about the Club. I do think with the run of results and poor quality of play since Christmas, and the amount of money that he has spent, the supporters had a right to be aggrieved and the press to be critical. Lets hope yesterday’s result marks the beginning of a period of consistently good football and results.

  11. We are no where near the finished product but it was nice to see a right back in the proper position and left back with two ventral defenders why has it took so long to play Vaughan he looked masterful in the midfield never wasted a ball let’s just hope he gives wickam his chance as he has a lot to offer come on Bruce don’t sickening the lad he could sit on liverpools bench and keep it warm he hasn’t come to SAFC to do that let’s rock and roll and put this club where it should be in the top six or seven.

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