Falling Out Of Love With Martin O'Neill

Charlie Crowhurst

It was all supposed to be so different when Martin O'Neill came to the club in November 2011, but why so quickly is this writer falling out of love with the Northern Irishman?...

When Martin O'Neill arrived at the Stadium Of Light there was a feeling like no other in the North East. After years we'd finally landed the manager we've wanted since Peter Reid left the club in the early part of the millennium.

It was all supposed to be so perfect. He wanted to come and we wanted him to be here, but as the Northern Irishman's first full season comes to a close, I can't help but shake the feeling I'm falling out of love with Martin O'Neill.

Upon first arriving, seven wins from ten games had us in dreamland. "Just imagine what he'll do with his own players and a full season to mould the team in his own image!" we collectively thought. Here we are with eight games remaining and once again we're left hoping we can scrape ourselves away from relegation, with a team seriously lacking in quality, fight, ambition and nobody willing to take responsibility.

Since those first ten games we've endured 9 wins from 44 games. Anyone else would have been sacked some time ago.

It seems like the excuses are mounting up. Most recently we've had "I knew we'd struggle" coupled with "we lack quality players". The latter you can excuse, you can't overhaul an entire squad in two short windows and one summer window, but you can add one or two quality pieces to the mix.

The first window I'll let O'Neill completely off the hook. He'd been here a month and things were going well. Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Wayne Bridge offered next to nothing. It's ok, that's fine.

The summer came though and with O'Neill seemingly "knowing" that we'd struggle, was enough added to the squad? Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson both appeared to be superb signings, and Fletcher in particular has while Johnson you'd say has underperformed. However "knowing" our potential struggles, was adding these pieces enough?

On a dour run January 2013 comes around and in comes Alfred N'Diaye who looks to have the potential if not the quality just yet. Danny Graham however has been an unmitigated disaster. Kader Mangane may not even exist.

O'Neill continues to make the excuses I mentioned earlier, but they don't seem to stand up any more. Opportunity has been there to ensure that we were never in the position we are now. I'm not for one second suggesting we should be challenging for Europe, but we shouldn't be frantically checking the Wigan score at 4:45pm most Saturdays. There has definitely been opportunity to make sure that isn't the case.

A comfortable and boring 12th to 14th would have been acceptable for a season of transition. I'd be ok with looking up the table wishing it was us and at the same time looking down thinking "thank God that's not us any more". Being where we are now isn't acceptable.

The recent outing against Norwich City was perhaps where the crushing realism of the entire situation piqued.

Prior to the game I had full faith we'd win, pull ourselves away and look back over a post-match pint wondering what we were even worried about. However the selection and performance were absolutely disgusting.

The excuse most used by O'Neill's hardened supporters is that it isn't his team, it's still in the main the dross left over by Steve Bruce.

It's an excuse that doesn't stand up though when O'Neill actively selects said dross over players he himself brought to the club hoping to make us improve.

David Vaughan's inclusion ahead of Alfred N'Diaye was madness. The Frenchman hasn't set the world alight, but he adds pace, power and forward drive. Needless to say, he wouldn't even be at the club unless O'Neill thought he was an improvement over the likes of Vaughan. Why else spend best part of £4m on him?

Kader Mangane's transfer to the club on loan from Al-Hilal was incredibly protracted, but it showed that O'Neill and the club wanted him to be here and he was an improvement on what we had. For some reason though he's an after-thought, not even appearing on the bench against Norwich while Titus Bramble sat there taking up considerable space.

The excuse that's continually trotted out for Mangane is that he isn't fit. You have to wonder a) why we even brought him here then and b) could he really be more unfit than Bramble who hasn't been fit since he was about 23, or Matt Kilgallon who hasn't been fit for Premier League purpose ever?

Let's just not even get too carried away with the Danny Graham stuff, who so far has shown little a pub player wouldn't. He and Fletcher don't seem to work, but that's just another in a series of baffling decisions.

You can't complain about other people's rubbish if you continually choose to use it over those you brought in which were alleged improvements.

In addition to the decisions made and excuses used for them, there's also the simple lack of fight. The Norwich game was very telling.

We were practically given the game. Against ten men for an hour, the survival of what should have been a penalty to the visitors; how couldn't we take advantage of this?

If there's no fight on the pitch, you can put it down to the players but O'Neill isn't without blame. If they won't roll their socks up and realise that this is a make-or-break game then why didn't O'Neill let rip and let them know this? Because they certainly didn't appear fired up in the second half.

I'm sure O'Neill would counter this with "I did, they just didn't do it"... Again, if the players can't or won't listen to the manager then we've very serious problems.

I'm not advocating that we get rid of O'Neill now, there's little point and it's very much "after the horse has bolted" type situation we'd be in.

I hope as much as anyone that we avoid relegation and the summer brings about great opportunity for Sunderland.

Many players are likely to be let go due to their contracts ending, others such as Phil Bardsley and David Vaughan who live eternally on the fringes are one year removed from walking away for free. It's likely these will be hawked around in an attempt to get something for them.

We could be left with a very, very small squad, and a very good opportunity for significant rebuilding.

Given we've been left short this season with too many out-goings, an over-reliance on known (poor) quality players and a seeming unwillingness to accept that some things aren't working for us, I have to admit, I'm not entirely sure at the moment that Martin O'Neill is the man I want to take us any further than that.

Much like every relationship you've ever had, it was exciting at first but that soon levels off and you question where this is all going.

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