The end-of-season reviews are beginning to trickle in. In principle, the series will continue until the flow halts or threatens to turn into a flood. Pete Sixsmith will as usual close the series. Now let’s hear from Mick Goulding, whose occasional contributions are always welcome. He pinpoints MoN’s decline, offers a bleak assessment of a squad PDC may be unable to change as much he’d like and urges Ellis Short to back his gamble with cash …
So, we have finally secured another Premiership season, making it the longest consecutive run in the top flight since our first ever relegation, 55 years ago.
An outsider could be forgiven for assuming that Sunderland have cracked it and joined the ranks of the seasoned regulars in the big league.
But if it was that straightforward, it wouldn’t be Sunderland. Yet again we made life unnecessarily hard for ourselves and put the fans through the emotional rollercoaster – from the agony to the ecstasy and back again – which all just amounts to normal service for the long-suffering fans of SAFC.
After the 2012 season had ended in disappointing anti-climax, following the cup defeat by Everton, most fans (and certainly this one) who had welcomed Martin O’Neill as (arguably) the best managerial signing in living memory, were looking forward with eager anticipation towards the construction of an ever-improving team in the manager’s own cultured and respected image. Older fans like me, of course, should have known better. It just doesn’t work like that here.
The acquisitions in the summer were okay as far as they went, but disappointing overall, as far as I was concerned, because they didn’t address all of our shortcomings. But MON’s recognition of the need to off-load some of the dross from the previous regime was encouraging. This was clearly a manager who knew what he was doing and simply needed time, and our faith in him, to provide some stability and continuity after a turbulent decade. Given time and a couple more transfer windows, he would get it right.
I continued to back him in this way for quite some time – most of the season, in fact – because, despite our football becoming what was really no better than Steve Bruce’s football, I believed (and still do) that the players themselves were principally at fault. Most of them are simply not good enough and are still Bruce’s men. As an example, the 0-0 home draw with QPR ranks as one of the worst displays of football that I’ve seen for a long, long time. Yet the same players were still capable of rising to the occasion and beating Man City on Boxing Day, to show that MON still had some magic dust he could sprinkle on them.
So the January window would be crucial for moving forward, especially after an abject and spineless cup exit at the hands of an incredibly ordinary Bolton Wanderers. And yet he wasted most of his money on the pointless and overpriced signing of Danny Graham, a player I never wanted because he was neither the striker nor the attacking midfielder we needed.
In the months of February and March we picked up 2 points from 7 games; but worse than that something seemed to come over MON. His body language on the touchline changed and he seemed frozen and panic-stricken, like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. His famed motivational powers deserted him and he even started to look like he didn’t want to be there. Whatever is the truth about his actual hands-on involvement at the training ground, clearly nobody was doing the business and we were visibly sleepwalking towards relegation. I still could have given him the benefit of the doubt if there were any signs that he could salvage his reputation; but when the owner made the tough executive decision it wasn’t easy to argue MON’s case.
And so, despite all his baggage (it’s all been said), Paolo Di Canio has been a breath of fresh air. He clearly knows what he wants from his players and so he will now have a massive job on his hands, because he simply isn’t going to get it from most of this bunch. I’d personally be happy for two-thirds of the entire squad to be dumped (although I know it won’t happen).
We have no real pace anywhere in the side, no creativity in central midfield and not enough goals coming from anywhere – including the strikers. Our Goals For column is yet again one of the worst in the Premiership, and this has been the case for years. It’s got to be addressed.
Since he now has a completely continental backroom staff and is replacing the scouting system, I’d like to see some young, fit talent come in from somewhere other than the same old, tired, British bargain basement. The woeful lack of suitable youngsters coming through from the academy over the last 4-5 years makes scouting farther afield even more of a necessity.
If PDC is to be taken seriously, he needs to be able to persuade Ellis Short that he knows exactly what’s required in the way of players; knows how and where to get them; and that his judgement is worth investing in. Short has seen his money wasted by both Bruce and O’Neill and won’t want to waste any more. But he’s the one who gambled on Di Canio, so he needs to back his man – otherwise there was no point.