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Captain's Blog: Gutsy O'Neill 'All In' On Sunderland Gambit

Martin O'Neill is clearly a man with a plan on Wearside, but is the needless game of Russian Roulette with the club's future really a necessary part of it?

Chris Brunskill

What on earth is going on at Sunderland? That is a question we seem to have been asking all season.

Almost from day one - when we kicked off against Arsenal with two 30+ free transfers the sum of the summer transfer business up until that point - it feels like we just haven't ever got going.

In fact, when you look back over the season, it has been one long story of jumping from one straw to desperately clutch at to another. ‘We'll be fine once the attacking players get fit and firing'; ‘a little bit of muscle in the centre of midfield will make the world of difference'; ‘playing two strikers will transform the whole side'.

Whether it has been at the games themselves, the pub, on the message boards, twitter, or our very own Roker Report podcast, we have all had our say on a vast array of prospective quick fixes until, now, just about every suggestion has been tried and failed.

David Vaughan was supposed to be the midfield solution - he wasn't. 4-4-2 was supposed to hold our salvation - it didn't. Switching Adam Johnson to the left was supposed to give him a new lease of life - it hasn't.

It has reached the point now when there literally isn't anything left to say. There are no quick fixes. There never were. It boils down to a lack quality in sufficient abundance and it always has. It is a realisation that is slowly starting to dawn on all of us and the most depressing thing about it is that given every other possibility has apparently been exhausted, it is a reality that is now just about impossible to escape.

I say ‘every other possibility' because I personally do not consider Martin O'Neill himself to be part of the problem. I know that there are those that do, but it isn't blind faith or propaganda on my part. For me his track record simply demands patience and proves without any real doubt that he is a man who knows how to construct a football team given sufficient time.

It really isn't for me - essentially just an idiot with a blog - to preach to other fans over the issue though. Everyone will make their own minds up and I can absolutely understand anyone whose patience has all but evaporated at this point. It's bleak right now and there is no denying it.

I just think that what we are seeing here is simply the means, and O'Neill deserves the time to make the ends justify it.

At the moment there seems to be a conscious, almost obsessive, effort to strip down the squad to the bare bones before the summer. All January we heard talk about how low the squad was on numbers and then we somehow entered February with a smaller squad.

The plan would appear to be to jettison as much deadwood now as possible and gamble that whatever remains is sufficient to ensure survival. Fair enough. Every penny saved now is a penny available to be spent in the summer, after all, and the next transfer window looks busy enough with the likes of David Vaughan, Kieren Westwood, Phil Bardsley, and Seb Larsson all entering their final year on their contracts.

Strip the club now of the players we know are not good enough ahead of a summer recruitment onslaught. All sounds great in theory.

The problem is, of course, that at the moment that gamble is looking far too precarious for our liking. Since the transfer window closed Sunderland have won just one point from a possible fifteen, and a desperate fight back from two goals down was needed just to get that.

It has been a run that has generally seen no attacking depth on the bench to change game - something specifically noted by O'Neill following the Queens Park Rangers debacle - and coincided with seeing Ji Dong-won and Connor Wickham making positive impacts away from the club on loan whilst Ahmed Elmohamady, David Meyler, and Fraizer Campbell spearhead the promotion pushes of the top two sides in the Championship.

The jury is still out on the former duo admittedly, and the latter trio were certainly not regarded by many as long-term solutions for Sunderland, but they were at least options, and options that the club have voluntarily and needlessly denied themselves.

It may well be a case that we beat Norwich next week and pick up another win and odd point here and there along the way, the gamble pays off, and we are sitting here in a couple of months wondering what on earth we were ever worried about. In fact, I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case.

In fairness to O'Neill, his strategy is a long term one, and the action he is taking is savagely decisive. He has backed himself and his judgement. It is, without question, a brave decision. Hopefully it won't be a foolhardy one too.

But in the meantime it is no fun for anyone and if I am perfectly honest it is starting to get me down a little. Following the club through this spell just feels like a chore as we just hang here in limbo unable to really assess anything until O'Neill's gamble plays itself out.

Let's just hope that when the verdict is finally in, the ends record these means as a necessary evil. I suppose that is just about the only straw we have left to clutch at.

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