Salut! Sunderland’s end-of-season reviews: (1) a tale of two managers

Jeremy Robson: 'We now have a manager how wants to be great'
Jeremy Robson: ‘We now have a manager who wants to be great’

Jeremy Robson is not built in the mould of the docile, acquiescent sort of supporter who takes whatever muck is thrown at him and just rolls over to be tickled now and again. Years spent standing in the Clock Stand Paddock illustrated his passion but made him a critical fan. Here, he kicks off our traditional series of season end assessments …


When a season begins
with a host of low scoring draws, someone in a position of authority needs to sit up and take notice, simply because these draws are more likely to turn into losses than wins, sooner or later.

It is particularly true when the overwhelming majority of your goals are coming from a single source; in this case Steven Fletcher. This is even more significant when you consider Fletcher’s chance to conversion rate. I don’t know the percentages, but the evidence shows that when presented with a chance, he rarely misses. Give him the opportunity and the ball’s in the net.

Fletcher’s goals are what has kept the Sunderland ship from sinking this season. It’s as simple as that.

Beyond that though, how can we summarise the season under O’Neill and then his successor? Dull, unimaginative, in fact turgid football which we suffered with a great deal of patience between August and the beginning of April.

An already paper thin squad which was shorn at every opportunity to see the likes of Turner, Richardson, Gyan, Meyler, Elmohamady, Campbell, Ji and Wickham all leave either permanently or on loan since the summer.

If ever a manager could be judged on who he let go then it would be O’Neill, were it not also for the bizarre albeit temporary acquisitions in Saha and McFadden.

O’Neill managed like a man who had been in a coma for the last decade, and who regained consciousness thinking he’d just dozed off after a heavy lunch. He created an impression of a man who was years behind the times and his mind unfocused on the job. His acquisitions in the January window consisted of a player nobody had heard of in Alfred N’Diaye, and a second that nobody else wanted in Danny Graham. Most performances from these players illustrated why this was the case in the most graphic means possible. N’Diaye looks to be as off the pace as the manager who bought him and Danny Graham is as useful as Anne Frank’s drum kit.

A fair proportion of our fan base seemed to have faith in O’Neill when for months there was no evidence that performances and results were going to improve. His failings were papered over by wins over Reading, Wigan and Southampton in quick succession. He was able to survive with some goodwill intact until the end of March when Ellis Short’s patience ran out.

Mr Short was far more patient than most owners would have been having been served up with terrible tactics, equally bad transfer dealings and unattractive football for a good 12 months.

Nobody that I know even dreamed that we would see the charismatic Paolo Di Canio installed as his successor within hours of the home defeat at the hands of the champions in waiting. Media hysteria about his political leanings was probably not anticipated by his new employers. They failed to quell the immediate furore which perhaps did go some way to detracting from our on field problems for at least the first week of his tenure.

Jake has a feeling things are going to change
Jake has a feeling things are going to change

With only seven games to go, many of our supporters felt that this appointment was too little too late, and frankly I was one of them.

Di Canio arrived with confidence at an all time low, and took charge of a paper thin squad which is frighteningly low on genuine talent. He somehow produced an immediate “Hawthorne Effect”, achieving in his second game a victory in an away derby, which we hadn’t seen for 13 years.

The bandwagon looked as if it had hit a ditch when we were hammered at Aston Villa but there was something of a recovery in the battling display with 10 men during the second half against Stoke.

I began writing this in the wake of Wigan’s defeat at home to Swansea, a result which in the final analysis allowed us to survive the drop, and finished after Arsenal confirmed our Premier status by beating them at the Emirates.

But regardless of whether we had survived or not, this season could have been seen as the season of two managers.

One of them looked as if he no longer had the heart or the capacity for us. Another caused horses to be thumped on the streets of Tyneside. He may or may not turn out to be the great appointment those events suggested – but at least we now have a man at the helm who might just die trying to be.

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10 thoughts on “Salut! Sunderland’s end-of-season reviews: (1) a tale of two managers”

  1. N’Diaye is improving with a combination of getting used to the premiership and PDC improving he’s fitness.Whether Graham ever fits in with us is questionable as I see him as a bench warmer next season When Fletch is fit and PDC sign’s he’s own strikers.Either way in goals return or a sale fee it looks like we will lose out with Graham,hope I’m eating my words on Sunday though.In reality after the initial bounce the change from Bruce to O ‘Neil was just someone taking of the fat suit and most of us, me included deluded ourselves for far to long that he would get it right,he wouldn’t have !

  2. That’s a good point about McClean, Dave. This is a tactic that PDC favours (wingers on wrong wings), and its clearly something that has served him well before. Questionable of course why persist when it was not working at all in the previous game as you say. He likes that system and maybe thought that even with the obvious deficiencies in personnel that it may be better than the alternative (which would be to put the wingers where they would presumably be most comfortable). To be fair to PDC even well before he arrrived neither winger was exactly covering himself in glory though.

  3. Just to be clear, my point wasn’t about picking McLean, as the options available weren’t great and, when he plays on the left he at least provides hard-working cover to allow Rose to go.
    What was unbelieveable was watching how badly it went on the Monday with McLean on the RIGHT and then pick exactly the same formation again. How anyone could watch how we played the first 30 minutes against Stoke and think that formation was worth another go beggars belief.
    My worry about PDC is not just that he did pick that formation twice but why. Did he truly believe it was the best formation or was he trying to prove that he was right all along?

    • There is always a reason for the manager’s doing things such as this. They aren’t just thoughtless experiments, it will be planned and intentional. Of course, when they fail on the pitch in front of 40’000 critical eyes it can come across that way.

      I doubt he was being stubborn or trying to prove a point because he changed it after 10 minutes of the second game. O’Neill and many before him would have stuck it out for the game’s entirety to show who was boss. Martin Smith made point on Salut podcast that he probably wanted pace on either side of the pitch. With Rose being the main source of that on the left, Colback is a logical choice to cover considering how bad Larsson was at doing it against Villa. If McClean is showing Di Canio he can do this on the right when in training then he’s within his right to try it.

      I’m glad he has the balls to try things, I agree it was pretty much a disaster in the end, probably down to personnel than tactics however. There’s always method to the madness.

      Unless I’m just stuck in that coaches’ union still.

  4. I will also jump to N Diaye’s defense here.He is very young and far as I see it has the ability to do well.He is extremeley strong, for example, he stood up to Fellani, which our entire team failed to do last year and he has a nice touch on the ball.He still has a lot to learn but has settled in quickly to what must be very alien conditions.He’ll do for me.

    So we lost our dream managerial appointment…what a sad year.But we had that dramatic and unexpected late revival beating the enemy on their own turf to cling on from certain relegation.

    One hero departs(slightly tarnished)and a new potential messiah(slighty tarnished) arrives.

    As the saying use to go….. The King is dead….long live the King.

    Lets hope this one is a good king.

  5. Dave said ” I think Campbell would have been better for us, even without the additional £4.5 million that went with him to Wales.”

    Now that he’s been gone for a few months and we have Graham it’s easy to remember Campbell as a being a far better player than he actually is. We’d certainly have been no worse off in terms of playing ability and would have a had a pile more money in the bank. In terms of ability there’s nothing much between the two of them but if anything Graham is worse.

  6. Rose was an excellent loan signing by MON. N’DIaye is a good signing who will partner with Catt effectively. Fletcher was well worth the money in the modern market. Graham needs to deliver or will revert to being a squad player.

    MON was perhaps too cautious then again I was glad we had we had a better goal difference than most around us.

    Please stop suggesting we stayed up because other teams beat Wigan. They were relegated because over 38 games they weren’t good enough. As Cloughie said the league table never lies.

    McLean has under delivered all season. He has shot his bolt and doesn’t seem to be able to learn/ develop

    The squad needs more quality and toughness. Too many hid too often

  7. Absolutely spot on Dave / Bill – N@Diaye has been very good in the last few games
    Graham made a nuisance of himself against Newcastle – apart form that has offered nothing
    McClean has totally lost the plot
    PDC has the commitment , passion and energy to succeed , I hope he makes some astute buys – he needs to

  8. Spot on Dave – I agree whole-heartedly about N’Diaye and Campbell. Graham is a waste.
    With regard to McClean it may be that his willingness to chase back and do a defending job was what swayed PDC to give him a place.

  9. Pretty fair summing up, although I think you are extremely unfair on N’Diaye who looks like he is coming to terms with the pace of the league now and could be a very good player. I’m afraid, despite trying very hard, I can’t argue with your assessment of our other January signing and I think it is fairly clear that we got the worst of the swap deal with Wales, as I think Campbell would have been better for us, even without the additional £4.5 million that went with him to Wales.
    In relation to Di Canio, I am really worried, as his tactics recently have been completely baffling (How could anyone play McLean on the right twice?) and I am concerned that he wants to prove himself a genius more than to just win games. Really hope I am wrong.

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