Pete Sixsmith asks the question, but the answer is anyone’s guess on this bleak day for Sunderland supporters ..
This seems to be something we ask from time to time, usually as we sleepwalk into a relegation position. Now, instead of looking at tweaking the team and making the odd change in a desperate attempt to bag the nine points we need to stay up, we are thinking about a new manager.
There’s not much to say about the United game. We didn’t play badly, we weren’t hammered and I baled out at half time. I had a far better option at Shildon, where there was an FA Vase semi final to watch.
The 45 minutes I did sit through did nothing to persuade me that we could win another game this season. No movement, no creativity and little real passion, as United strolled through as easy a game as they have had all season.
I listened to Barnes and Bennett on the way home and it sounded as if things were a bit better in the second half, but at no time did David De Gea’s goal appear to be under siege. In fact, our forwards were as effective at besieging his goal as those led by Graham Chapman as his knights searched for the Holy Grail.
The game at Shildon was the exact opposite of those that I have watched this season involving Sunderland. It was engrossing, exciting and entertaining, it had an unwanted twist in the tail and it was involved players who seemed to believe in what they were doing.
Needing to overturn a 2 goal deficit from the first leg, the Railwaymen were 3 up early in the second half and the trains and hotels for a jolly weekend in London were being booked. Then Tunbridge Wells got one back, took it to extra time and grabbed a second four minutes from the end to bring the Wembley dream to an end.
A few hours later, a text from John Penman told me that the dream we had harboured of success under Martin O’Neill was also at an end. Texts were sent, phone calls were made and received and web sites were consulted. Pete Horan said that this was the worst footballing day of his life while others on Salut and elsewhere wondered about the timing and the sanity of the decision.
I watched a few minutes of Match of the Day, marvelled at how well Alan Shearer reads the script that has been written for him but found myself agreeing with the writer as he made it crystal clear to all and sundry that here was a team with as much movement and flexibility as a copse of trees. When Hansen said we looked a relegation team, it was very difficult to even raise a tiny snort of derision.
So, the O’Neill period comes to an end. Too short to be an era and a little longer than a hiatus, it started with such promise and ended with the worst team I have seen at the Stadium of Lights and not far off being the worst one I have ever seen in a Sunderland shirt.
Why? My idea of him being too old to manage at this level was shot down in October. I still believe that has a lot to do with it. Maybe he missed John Robertson, but whatever the reason, as a manager, he stands or falls by his results and for twelve months the results and the performances have been awful.
Anybody who sat through the mind numbing goalless draws against Wolves, QPR and Swansea and witnessed the humiliating Cup defeats to Middlesbrough and Bolton would have realised that the ideas and tactics that had proved successful at Leicester, Celtic and Villa, were no longer relevant in a game that relies on quick passing and quick thinking.
Given money to spend in January it was wasted on N’Diaye and Graham, both decent players, but neither likely to add anything to a team struggling for creativity and goalscorers. Those purchases may have convinced the owner that he needed a change.
The timing isn’t perfect, but fans rather than pundits know that this team was heading for the Football League weeks ago. We have 7 games left and need three wins to stay up. In 1996 we sacked a dyed in the wool Sunderland fan in Mick Buxton as we plunged towards Division Two. He was replaced by an out of work Peter Reid who came in and saved the club from what would have been a terminal relegation. Bob Murray took a gamble then and Ellis Short is taking one now. Gambles, when they come off, leave one feeling exhilarated and excited – things that have been in short supply at Sunderland for the last twelve months.
Gamblers live their lives on the edge of a knife. Short is an astute businessman who has made money by careful research and plotting rather than gambling. Welcome to the casino, Ellis.