Quick Kicks: Thoughts And Reaction From O'Neill's Sunderland Demise

Chris Brunskill

Usually in this feature we look back upon the weekend's game, analyze the manager's comments and pick out some talking points. This week that seems somewhat redundant, so let's look back upon Martin O'Neill's reign - and specifically its demise - instead.

Visibly Flat

What struck me so much about Martin O'Neill during this current poor run of form was just how flat he was.

His press conferences had started to become increasingly glum. There was little or no defiance in his words. He simply sat there bemoaning the situation. ‘We don't have this'; ‘we're lacking that'; ‘we need points'.

On the touchline he was more animated, but also a lot more noticeably pensive. After games he would just stare quite blankly in the general direction of the camera, speaking without the bounce in his voice or the sparkle in his eye that we became so accustomed to during those heady early days.

He just didn't look like he was enjoying it anymore. It was a man with the demeanour of someone waiting and hoping for his luck to change rather than confident in his authority to effect it himself.

Riddled With Self-Doubt

It is something we have spoken about before, but although O'Neill fervently denied his Sunderland struggles prompting self-doubt to a BBC journalist, his actions had started to send out a very different message.

For starters there was his strange mood swings with various players. David Vaughan would be ignored for weeks, then inexplicably pop into the side for a while. Connor Wickham was being praised to the hilt one week and then complained about the next.

Others meanwhile, seemed to be given a free pass no matter what they did. Seb Larsson was persisted with in central midfield, despite visibly and admittedly struggling. Titus Bramble constantly found his way into the side despite a lack of form, fitness, ability, and O'Neill bringing in two centre backs of his own choosing.

Meanwhile, the system had become almost indecipherable.

He appeared to cave in, at least to some extent, to fan pressure to see a 4-4-2 system. May be there is still some life in the system, who knows, but it wasn't what O'Neill had built this squad for. In fact, all three of the big-money attacking players signed by O'Neill - two strikers who prefer to play alone and a maverick undisciplined winger - particularly struggled.

Then there was Stephane Sessegnon, who had finally seemed to have been pinned down to a specific role only to then become some kind of strange footballing hermit, moving positions two or three times a week never mind a month.

By the end, no one seemed to know what they were doing and there was no actual system at all. Just a gloppy-gloop of red and white shirts sliming around the field aimlessly.

Legacy?

It genuinely saddened me to see things grind to a sad end for O'Neill here. He was, without any question, the perfect man for the football club at exactly the wrong time.

Perhaps it was something of a kindness that he leaves still maintaining the best wishes of the Sunderland fans. Granted, there were some who had turned on him, and the rest weren't too far behind, but from what I have seen over the last 48 hours or so he still enjoyed a lot of support. Unlike with Steve Bruce, I believe the majority were still rooting for O'Neill right up until the end.

His tenure will be seen as a disappointment, but his legacy doesn't have to be.

If Paolo Di Canio can get the best out of the likes of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher whilst also developing Alfred N'Diaye into a proper player, and they go on to play significant roles in some success, then O'Neill will be remembered fondly for bringing them to the club.

Perhaps I am being a little too optimistic and generous there. May be that is just me rooting for him again. Who knows. Either way, I'd like to think he could still somehow salvage some shred of positive legacy at Sunderland.

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