Sometimes, it's nice to look back with the pleasure of hindsight and wonder what might have been. Sometimes though, it can be as scary as it can entertaining.
With that in mind, we at Roker Report were wondering... What if? What if Martin O'Neill wasn't chosen as Sunderland's new manager, and instead, we ended up with the other candidate for the job who, for a long time, looked like he might actually get it.
Well, I've had a little think and this is what I've come up with. Ladies and gentlefolk, here's Sunderland's season to date, if the club had appointed Mark Hughes instead.
November 30, 2011
The inevitable has finally happened. With the club sitting in a devastating 16th place in the Premier League, Steve Bruce has been relieved of his duties. While many a supporter will be breathing a huge sigh of relief at the news, the hard work is about to begin for whoever is chosen to take the reigns, with the threat of a long and gruelling relegation battle hanging over a team that was reshaped by the former boss in the summer. This was meant to be a new start for the Black Cats, and optimism ruled supreme at the Stadium of Light, however the team is in disarray, and a 2-1 defeat again Wigan was the final nail in the coffin for the Bruce era.
Here on Roker Report, Simon Walsh, David Boyle and Chris Wetherspoon have been discussing who they want to take over from Mr Bruce. If you fancy checking out their thoughts, get on iTunes and have a listen to episode 35 of the podcast. Interestingly, every member of the podcast panel has said that Hughes is the man for the job. Even more interestingly, we haven't had a comment from Dan Williams, while Michael Graham offered his support to Martin O'Neill via Captain's Blog a couple of weeks ago.
December 1, 2011
With speculation hotting up about the managerial vacancy at Sunderland, two outstanding candidates have come to the forefront with the bookmakers in the form of Martin O'Neill and Mark Hughes. The former has been out of work since leaving Aston Villa following a disagreement with owner Randy Lerner, and in a strange coincidence, a falling out with Mohammed Al Fayed was the reason behind Hughes's departure from Fulham. Both men have apparently been sounded out about the job, and although the Irishman was a Sunderland fan as a youngster and has been considered for the position in the past, Hughes is currently the narrow favourite with Betfair.
December 3, 2011
The wait is over. At a press conference this afternoon, Ellis Short confirmed that Mark Hughes will be the new manager of Sunderland AFC. Said Short, "We are delighted to welcome to Mark to the Stadium of Light. This season has been disappointing to date, but we are confident that, under the guidance of Mark, we will be able to climb the table and progress. We are of course keeping in mind that the January transfer window is almost upon us, and will be backing Mark in this quest to improve a squad that has struggled this season. Thanks to his connections to agent Kia Joorabchian, we are confident of attracting a high standard of player to the Stadium of Light. Let's get to work, and haway the lads."
December 4, 2011
Hughes sits in the stands to see his new team go down 2-1 at Wolves. This isn't going to be an easy task for the Welshman. Does he have the personality to turn the situation around? Only time will tell.
December 11, 2011
The time for talk was over, as Mark Hughes took charge of his first game in charge of Sunderland against former team Blackburn Rovers. Team news was interesting, as Bendtner, Ryan Noble and Oumare Tounkara all started. As Martin Tyler put it on Sky Sports, "Sunderland fans shouldn't have really been surprised at the decision. Hughes loves a striker, and even if the ones at his disposal are unproven, you can be sure he'll play them. Keep an eye on the Black Cats in the transfer window, as I would expect more to be coming in".
The match itself had no real quality. Despite almost 40,000 Sunderland fans making their way to usher in the new era at the Stadium of Light, the team never really got going, and went behind to a 17th minute goal from Blackburn's Vukcevic.
Thankfully for the new boss, David Vaughan rescued a point with a long-range piledriver, but it became clear soon after the goal that both teams were happy with a draw, and the game petered out. Sparks did fly after the final whistle however, as Hughes refused to shake the hand of Steve Kean, now the manager of Hughes' former club.
When asked about the incident in the post-match press conference, Hughes replied "Who? The little bald guy? That's the manager now? You learn something everyday...".
December 18, 2011
No change of fortune for the Black Cats as they go down 1-0 to Harry's boys at Tottenham. Said Hughes after the game; "We can't be too down about that one, Spurs are a good side, and look at the strikers they have... Defoe, Adebayor, the Russian one. It's enough to make any manager purr".
December 21, 2011
With the games coming thick and fast, Hughes' team took to the field against an under-fire Neil Warnock and QPR. With the players looking tired, again the team struggled against a team in a similar league position to them. The Black Cats actually took a second-half two goal lead, but fatigue set in soon after, and Bendtner and Sessegnon's goals were cancelled out by two quick-fire strikes by Helguson and Mackie for the home side. Unfortunately for the away fans, the team couldn't really lift themselves after the two goals, and Hughes was left without a win in his first three games in charge.
December 26, 2011
With Everton the visitors to the Stadium of Light, all talk was on a bizarre pre-match chat with Hughes in which he was visibly shaking with excitement. "I know we have struggled since I took over, but with the opening of the transfer window only a few days away, we'll be looking to bolster our numbers in the coming days."
The match itself was another one that struggled to catch the imagination of the Sunderland supporters, and fans voiced their disapproval as the final whistle blew. Despite Jack Colback's first goal for the team in red and white, Everton got away with a draw thanks to a terrible refereeing decision in which the Toffees were awarded a penalty when Leon Osman fell over his own feet.
January 1, 2012
Despite his best efforts, Hughes was unable to bring anyone in ahead of a huge game at the Stadium of Light against league leaders, and his former employers, Manchester City. Following the recent poor run since Hughes took charge, a crowd of only 32,450 saw Roberto Mancini guide a team including a number of Hughes signings to a comfortable 3-0 victory. Again, one of the game's talking points was Hughes refusal to shake hands with his City counterpart, angering fans on both sides of the stadium.
Discussing the situation, Roker Report's Dan Williams said "He's losing the belief of a lot of fans with this behaviour. Not only is he showing a lack of class, he's making a fool of himself and he's making the club look bad. We pride ourselves on being the best that we can be, and acting like a petulant child following a defeat isn't the way that we conduct ourselves up here. If the team was on fire, then we could begrudgingly accept this kind of thing, but we are barely better off now than when Ol Big ‘Ead was here, so he needs to keep his mouth shut until he begins to get results".
January 3, 2012
However, Sunderland fans were intrigued to see two new players joining their ranks ahead of the Wigan game. An apparent fee of £10m was splashed on Fulham frontman Bobby Zamora, while the more exciting transfer saw former favourite Djibril Cisse rejoin the club from Lazio on loan. Although he was hit-and-miss in his first spell at the club, supporters gathered outside the Stadium of Light at noon to cheer their French hero as he re-arrived in the North East.
The team actually came good for him at the DW Stadium against a team devoid of confidence. Nicklas Bendtner, obviously a little worried about the incoming frontmen put in a great shift, scoring two goals and setting up a third for Ryan Noble. Hughes had every right to be happy with his team's performance, and made a point of shaking hands with Roberto Martinez at the final whistle, something which brought ironic cheers from his own fans after the final whistle.
January 7, 2012
Another year, another terrible performance from Sunderland in the FA Cup, as Hughes took the opportunity to play a few squad youngsters, and paid the price as the team crashed out of the cup at Peterborough. An abject performance was rewarded with a 2-0 reverse, and the travelling fans were happy to voice their disapproval at the end of 90 quite awful minutes.
To make matters worse, apparent target Martin O'Neill took charge of his first QPR game against MK Dons away from home, and with the same squad that Warnock struggled with, beat the franchise club 7-0 in their third-round tie.
January 21, 2012
With the paperwork not completed in time for the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea last week, this was the first chance for Black Cats fans to see a frontline of Nicklas Bendtner, Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse. In midfield, Stephane Sessegnon continued to cut a disillusioned figure on the left of midfield, while Lee Cattermole missed out after being sent off at Chelsea. Unfortunately, the Sunderland skipper's performances have slumped under the new manager, and he doesn't look like fulfilling the potential that he undoubtedly showed under Bruce. Despite calls from the sidelines for Irishman James McClean to be given a chance, Hughes decided against giving him a call-up to the full squad, instead sending him out on loan to his fellow countryman O'Neill at QPR.
The game actually saw the team pick up a second three points under the new manager, with Cisse bagging his first goal back on Wearside, before picking up a bizarre red card. During a Sunderland attack, he hit a wayward shot that struck a young fan in the face. The linesman, believing that Cisse had put it wide on purpose as it was so far off target flagged to the referee, and Sunderland's number nine was dismissed for injuring a fan intentionally. With a previous court case concerning the Frenchman and hitting fans with the ball, the decision to bring Cisse back to Sunderland already looked questionable.
However, his early goal, plus a tap in from David Vaughan game Hughes' team the three points against a Swansea team hailed as magnificent by their own boss Brendan Rodgers. The only downside for the home side was Bendtner being withdrawn through injury with a suspected broken nose, with Hughes confirming in his post-match presser that he would be looking to utilise the transfer market to replace the injured Dane.
January 31, 2012
With Jim White almost burning white hot with excitement, Sunderland were his dream club on deadline day as Hughes signed no less than four more attacking players. On top of Bendtner, Noble, Sessegnon, Zamora, Cisse, Tounkara and a returning Fraizer Campbell, in came Federico Macheda from Manchester United on loan, as well as Roque Santa Cruz, Benjani and, controversially, Shola Ameobi from Newcastle United. When quizzed on the Mags frontman making the move, Hughes replied; "We needed a new striker, with only seven in the squad we were looking very short on numbers, so I moved to bring in anyone available. Shola's a bit crap, and wasn't really needed at the SportsDirectArena.com@thegeordienation, so I snapped him up".
February 4, 2012
Things began to look up for Hughes in midweek thanks to a comfortable victory over Norwich, with goals from Zamora and Sessegnon, but the Sunderland boss struggled in this game against Stoke, with the fans furious at the final whistle after the manager named a 2-3-5 formation, leaving them brutally open at the back, leading to a 6-3 defeat at the Britannia Stadium. Despite two debut goals from Santa Cruz, and another tap-in from David Vaughan, the visitors had little to no defensive strength, and were turned over by the better side on the day.
Even more upsettingly for Sunderland fans was news of QPR's 4-0 victory over Wolves, with James McClean scoring all four goals.
February 5, 2011
*BREAKING NEWS* Niall Quinn leaves Sunderland under a cloud. Apparently a fallout with Ellis Short means that Quinn has severed his ties with the club. Quinn is rumoured to have fought with the American owner over the appointment of Hughes, as Quinn himself had championed O'Neill's cause, and with the Black Cats stuttering and QPR flying high, the Irishman has quit his position with the club with immediate effect.
"It is a sad day for me to leave a club that I love so much, but the short-sightedness of the board in this appointment, as well as the continued interference of agents and the big-spending which has undone a lot of my hard work means that I can no longer enjoy working here, nor can I go on being involved with the club", said Quinn.
And that, for now, is that. I'll be back later in the season with another update on what might have happened if we had brought in Mr Hughes instead of Martin O'Neill. With our club in great form at the moment, and our (Hughes-run team) struggling, let's just be grateful that Mr Short made the right choice three months ago.