Another week and another column for our illustrious friends at The Durham Times. It was my turn to step up to the plate to bring you my slant on Bruce's sacking, The Wigan game, Gary Speed's tragic passing, those chants and the apparent two horse race for the vacant managerial spot. Woah, what a week!
You can find all our pieces for the paper here, or you can pick yourself up a copy and read our lovely little ramblings each and every Friday.
Last weekend saw yet another disjointed, seemingly half-hearted Sunderland performance and whilst Wigan appeared to have galvanised following the interval Steve Bruce’s side merely faded into obscurity and gifted the travelling side the easiest three points they are ever likely to earn from such a sub-par showing. As Westwood and Brown conspired to plot SAFC’s downfall with their combined efforts in what can only be described as the second most shambolic display of football that afternoon, Phil Bardsley’s effort on goal being the first, Franco Di Santo stepped forward to almost apologetically roll home Wigan’s winner into the gaping chasm that was the home goal. The Stadium of Light erupted and some cringe-worthy vitriol poured from the stands focused directly at the lonely figure with his head in his hands on the touchline.
The patience of the Sunderland fans had, quite rightly, ran out. However the wrath of the fans should have been articulated more thoughtfully for me as all that the ill-advised chanting created was the perfect excuse for Bruce to roll out to his chum’s in the media and as expected we have been subjected to somewhat of a witch-hunt from sections of the press this week for our harassment of their comrade. Instead of questioning his, quite frankly, appalling record and often bewildering tactics and substitutions the media have fallen hook, line and sinker for Steve’s sob story of non-acceptance on Wearside due to his Geordie roots. Needless to say the home fans trudged away from the ground that afternoon expecting to hear news of their managers demise by the time they had reached the pubs and clubs.
The trials and tribulations of Saturday’s events were put on hold and in all honesty put into perspective the following day as the distressing news of Gary Speed’s death filtered through. Suddenly speculation over Bruce’s status with the club seemed meaningless as one of the Premier League’s greats took their own life. Bill Shankly is famously quoted as saying "Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that" however on Sunday, maybe for the first time, Shankly was wrong. We would like to extend our best wishes and condolences to Gary’s family and friends.
As the week progressed the social media rumour mill took on a life of its own as is par for the course these days. Numerous sources claimed everything from crisis board meetings to speculation that Bruce had offered his resignation. However the axe finally fell on Wednesday evening as Sky Sports News struggled to cope with covering both the breaking news from the North-East and the night’s European ties.
Whilst Steve seemed to strategically plot his own demise through a number of shockingly misguided press conferences, team selections and an apparent lack of any resemblance of a "Plan B" he did manage to succeed in following Roy Keane and establishing Sunderland in the Premier League, a feat for which he deserves at least some credit. It became painfully evident this season however that Steve had hit a glass ceiling, he had taken SAFC as far as he could and was lacking the ability to progress with the club. It’s a shame his time in the North-East ended in the manner that it did but his time was up, the results weren't coming and the club have quite rightly acted accordingly.
So that now leaves us with the task of replacing our downtrodden gaffer. Without question the overwhelming favourite, both on Wearside and with the bookmakers is Martin O’Neill. Whilst many a Mackem will have you believe that Martin has the old Sunderland badge proudly tattooed across his chest, I am more inclined to believe that he was an admirer of Charlie Hurley as young lad rather than the dyed in the wool Sunderland fan many deem him to be. My issue with O’Neill would be his lack of interest in other jobs that I would class to be with clubs on a par with SAFC that he has turned down as of late. Does he still have the desire for another managerial role? Personally speaking I would like to see Mark Hughes brought in; his overall record is fairly impressive across his spells with Blackburn, Manchester City and most recently Fulham and the timing seems right for him to step back into the dugout. Maybe he could even lace his boots for one last season and help provide some much needed firepower to our tame forward line…
We now look ahead to Sunday’s tricky trip to a familiar face, Mick McCarthy’s, Wolves, with Eric Black assigned the task of rallying the SAFC troops. It would not surprise me however if the club had moved to appoint Bruce’s successor ahead of this fixture and their attendance in the stands could act as a much needed catalyst for a side desperate for a victory. How Black sets his Sunderland side up, who knows, I wouldn’t expect radical changes but he may be more willing to afford the likes of Ryan Noble a starting position following his impressive performances for the reserves this year.