Captain's Blog: Witch Hunts And Whining Won't Solve Anything On Wearside

Michael Regan

You won't find anyone associated with Sunderland claiming it has been anything other than a dreadful week on Wearside. But the witch hunts, whining, and overreactions are helping no one.

Perception is a wonderful thing. Ask a football fan, particularly a Sunderland one, if they live a charmed existence and I suspect we'd all scoff at the implication that there is even a debate to be had. Whatever joys the game bestow upon us have been very well earned through expense, time and energy.

If you were to ask Martin O'Neill the same question, I wonder if he'd agree.

All season we have all had our say on what changes need to be made at Sunderland to get the team playing. Fans demanded two out and out strikers and got them. Nothing changed. Fans demanded a flair player be dropped to the bench and got it, twice. Nothing changed. Fans implored the manager to move Craig Gardner back into central midfield to provide some forward impetus and got it. Nothing changed.

From O'Neill's perspective, you could forgive an assertion that football fans are allowed to insist they have all the answers without any consequences of failing to prove it. That does, in fairness, sound like a charmed life to some degree.

I should stress that I don't offer that as any criticism of fans. I am one myself and I exercise the prerogative of opinion just as much as anyone else. They make the world go round, as Brian Clough once said.

But when something comes as freely as answers come to us fans, there is often a danger that they can be thrown around without properly considering how they actually relate to the wider problem. Observations and diagnostics all seem to get mixed in together with the result being the picture just becomes more skewered and difficult to decipher than it was in the first place.

In reality, the root cause of the problem has not really changed that much at all over the last twelve months. It is a problem that O'Neill inherited rather than created, and it is something that we were all agreed upon and one to which we all agreed there was no quick-fix. It was a distinct lack of sizzle and quality in attacking areas. There was no argument.

When O'Neill replaced Bruce, he took charge of a very meagre looking squad. It was heavy on work horses and decent players. A squad full of squad players, if you like. The likes of Craig Gardner and Phil Bardsley can be valuable members of the side in a supporting role, but they are not really going to carry anyone at this level.

There was Stephane Sessegnon and Nicklas Bendtner. One we were struggling to keep settled and one we never owned. That was about the sum of the sparkle in the Sunderland squad, with the Darren Bent money invested in the future with the signing of Connor Wickham.

This summer, O'Neill has gone about solving that, and once more we were all agreed that Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson represented a tangible injection of quality into the side. They were pricey, but in many ways they were made to measure. Young players who could stick around for a while, in positions in which we were lacking, and for whom the geography would not be an issue.

Good strong signings and solid steps in the right direction, but somewhere along the line the perspective seems to have been lost. These were not signings that instantly transformed the side into all-conquering world-beaters.

Last week was an absolute shocker but it was just one week. People keep telling me that the results of it were merely an extension of the rest of the season so far, but I am not sure I believe them. The result against Aston Villa was the first time this season you could look at a league game in isolation and describe the result as a disappointing one.

It has been what a year ago we all agreed it was going to be - a slog. So what has changed? Why the outrage?

No manager should ever be above criticism. I'd be lying if I said that I was in total agreement with everything O'Neill has done this season, or any other manager in any other season, for that matter. I find calls for him to be under pressure absolutely ludicrous, though.

For all the things that the technological age has added to the game - the instant tweeted soundbites, the videos of manager's press conferences, the huge volume of articles and interviews, etc - us fans will still only ever relate to good results and there hasn't been much to get excited over of late. So disappointment is inevitable and certainly not worthy of condemnation.

The club is hardly in crisis, however. Stoke have an almost identical record to our own and you don't see Tony Pulis under any pressure. Everton have had poor starts almost habitually under David Moyes, but change hasn't been demanded. What makes us so special? You rarely build anything by changing the architect when the foundations aren't deemed pretty enough.

If we take a break from relentlessly analysing what isn't quite right at the moment and take a good look at what we have going for us, we might be pleasantly surprised. A proven manager, a very tight defence, and some strong attacking players. There is plenty there to build upon. It's not half as bad a situation as some would have you believe.

It seems like we have all become so caught up in nit-picking at the little problems that they have been blown completely out of proportion. But, lets face it, changing our right backs or leaving out flair players at this stage isn't really going to help matters.

It's a case of buckling down, having some faith in the manager and his squad, and backing them to play themselves out of the slump. We can back the lads and acknowledge the problems they are having right now. It isn't an either/or situation. I suppose it is about making the choice to do that.

Personally, I find the prospect of that much more fun and appealing than the alternative of witch hunts and whining.

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