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ROKER RAMBLE: Allardyce Slowly Instilling Accountability In Sorry Sunderland

The message from Sam Allardyce is abundantly clear - you're either part of the problem or part of the solution.

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked during a feature for a Swedish website to explain what Sam Allardyce had changed at Sunderland.

It was during a spell of very typical Sunderland-style capitulations at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, and in truth there wasn't a whole lot to cling on to.

That said, there was one thing worth mentioning. It was a big thing too, even though it was tucked away largely out of sight. Allardyce is very clearly defining to his players precisely what an acceptable level of performance is and what is not.

As Sunderland have ploughed almost endlessly through managers, they have always seemed to lurch from one extreme to the other.

The quite lovely and personable Martin O'Neill was replaced with the shamelessly brutal whirlwind that was Paolo Di Canio, who was then replaced himself by the softer, smiling Gus Poyet. When Poyet left, it was hard-nosed Dick Advocaat who rolled in, with folded arms and a facial expression and growl combo like your dad's the first time he discovered you trying to sneak a girl out of your childhood room on a morning.

Some probably over-protected the players when they began struggling and some definitely went over the top in publically hanging them out to dry, but none really found the right balance. They were either absolved of all responsibility or they were blamed for everything. In real terms, both extremes meant they had no real reason to care.

Allardyce, though, seems to be determined to instill genuine accountability into the players, alongside clear guidelines of what they are expected to produce as a minimum.

The Everton game was a great example of that. It would be easy to over-protect the players and give them the excuse of being asked to play an unfamiliar system, but he left everyone in no doubt as to who was responsible for the defeat.

"We had no-one there to defend correctly after getting back to 2-2. That was something I didn't think THEY should have done."

"THEY should have held on to the point and made sure the point was secure.

"When you come back from anywhere in the Premier League with 2-2 it's enough. It's like a win but the lads got carried away and thought THEY could score a third."

His reaction to the defeat to Manchester City was even more telling. Negatives was ‘they', positives was ‘we', as were the challenges he set the players in order to improve.

"THEY look apprehensive, THEY're not playing on the front foot and from a defensive point of view THEY're standing off the opposition," he added.

"WE're not too bad in possession, WE've got some skillful players who can handle the ball.

"But when WE're out of possession WE've got to shut the opposition down."

The messages are abundantly clear - you're either part of the problem (they) or part of the solution (we).

You could argue that Allardyce is merely trying to shift blame away from himself, and he almost certainly is. Self-preservation is of course behind it but, unlike with Di Canio and Poyet, it's a means to and ends as opposed to an end to itself.

It's something we have all said for far too long now at Sunderland - the players have it too easy and it's not healthy for the club. They are not necessarily lazy or bad eggs, but they have grown far too accustomed to a lack of accountability in their work and that's never going to bring the best out of anyone.

Allardyce's strategy is a long term one and, in all truth, it may be too long term to save Sunderland this season.

What it is, however, is an absolutely necessary step in creating a Sunderland we can all be proud of once again.

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