In the third of our series looking back at Martin O’Neill’s first term in office, (visit the home page salutsunderland.com to see the first two) we welcome a new contributor, Gareth Barker who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past and of Christmas yet to come. Pete Sixsmith will, in his own inimitable style, round off our offerings later today but before that let Gareth explain why Martin O’Neill may just be the gift we always wanted.
As we approach Christmas, it takes me back to my childhood. I wanted the new thing every year, like every kid at school. Now, as an adult, the only thing that gets near the Christmas morning excitement is when my beloved Sunderland finally deliver and bring in a top player, or in the case of Martin O’Neill, a top manager.
Last year all SAFC fans’ Christmas present came early, when Niall and Ellis played Santa and delivered us the gift that we’d always wanted. A year on, we approach Christmas and some amongst our ranks are hankering for a new managerial present.
The question is – should Martin be relegated to a box under the bed, to gather dust with a load of other gifts we lost interest in? Or should he become our ‘go to’ childhood gift? The one that, long after being replaced, still has pride of place on top of the toy box?
I’d be inclined to go with the latter.
When Martin arrived just over a year ago, we were in a severe situation. A few boos rang out as we crashed to a catastrophic home defeat to Wigan, not as many as Mr O’Neill’s predecessor would have you believe however, and it was time for a change.
People argue that we are in a worse situation now than when Steve Bruce left the club. We are in a pretty much identical league position and have had a pretty dreadful run of results that ran out the back of last season, and into this.
In my opinion, the manager can only do so much. A lot of responsibility for our current predicament falls at the door of the players. They need to take pride in their performances, and Rose aside this season, I don’t think they have been doing that.
People level accusations of lack of ideas at O’Neill, a stubbornness some say.
I like to see a man with his own ideas in charge, who isn’t easily swayed by fan or press pressure. We all have different opinions on the game, but he is the one who has to implement and make decisions and he takes the praise and flak that comes with that.
His tactics haven’t changed since he got here, and nobody complained when we lost one or two games in 15 when he first came in and saved our season.
There are often what I would call lazy suggestions made as tactical offerings. ‘Go 4-4-2’ many cry. Well, our one striker barely sees any of the ball when we’re not performing. What makes anyone think that having two strikers not seeing any of the ball will make a blind bit of difference to our current poor form?
At the moment, the players just are not working hard enough on the pitch. We have seen that when they do, they produce a performance worthy of themselves and the manager. The second half against Norwich was a prime example of this. O’Neill didn’t change the way we play in that second half, but we created ample goal scoring opportunities and could have run out 5-2 winners had we taken them.
In stark contrast, the QPR game was a prime example of players ‘bottling’ the occasion. Talk of ‘Arry giving them an extra yard was presented as an argument by some, including our own players. However, their new managerial appointment shouldn’t affect our ability to move off the ball. Non of the players were getting themselves involved in the game. This is down to them, not the manager.
People will say that Martin needs to motivate the players, but the players themselves are not children. They should be taking pride in their work and showing that spirit and desire unconditionally.
Martin needs time to build a team. I don’t think many SAFC fans would have turned down the chance to bring Johnson in, or Fletcher. He identified areas we needed to improve and brought those players in. Johnson has yet to get going, and Fletcher has been a bright spot in an otherwise filthy start to the season.
He has brought Rose (who has been a revelation) to the club and solved a problem that we’ve had for nigh on 10 years. We finally have a proper left back. The real test will be getting him to sign on permanently.
I believe that Ellis and Martin are both working towards a long term goal. We need to be building bit by bit, window to window, bringing in players and creating a team that will be consistent for the next few years and possibly beyond.
If you look at a side like Everton, they usually have the same core 7-8 players every time we play them. They also have the same manager. Every time we put a side out against them it’s almost a completely different 11 players every 18-24 months. Everton don’t spend a lot. But they have a unit of solid Premier League players who know how the team plays as a collective and as individuals. It’s no surprise to see Pienaar return to form at Everton after a dismal stint at Tottenham. He knows his place there, as does every other player in that side.
It also doesn’t help to have a rolling 24 hour sports news channel defining what success at each and every football club is, with little knowledge of what goes on at those clubs on a daily basis. Opinions are thrown about that don’t really mean anything, based on people’s opinions, which are derived from that person watching two minutes of highlights whilst they’re sorting their tie out before going on air to bellow incoherently about ‘worldies’ and ‘beans on toast’.
These comments get into people’s heads and create pressure that really shouldn’t exist. Some of the pressure on O’Neill comes from results, sure. But really, we should be looking past the instant gratification of ‘success’ that is outlined by Billy Pundit and see that we have a keeper in O’Neill. He is a man with a proven track record, and he needs time to prove it at Sunderland.
Let’s give Martin the chance to become that cherished gift we really did always want, I’m sure he’ll give us some memories to keep us warm at night just like our favourite teddy bear.
*** See the full O’Neill One Year On series at this link: https://safc.blog/category/martin-oneill-one-year-on/
Gareth Barker on himself: I am a passionate football fan, and a season ticket holder since 1997. Born and bred in Sunderland and nearing 30, I live in hope that I’ll get to see us win something like my Dad did in 1973. Husband, graduate x2 and currently working in media. Big fan of food and drink and try my best to be merry.
And Monsieur Salut has become very gloomy: read his latest contribution on the ESPN blog http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/710?cc=5739