Sunderland’s recent slide tracks back to Gustavo Poyet’s 2013/14 season: 14th, 16th, 17th, 20th, 24th. Last season (5th), it was clear that this ‘hit the brakes’ fall from elite level’s mid-table money pit had stopped. Sunderland had reached the bottom of a gut-wrenching lunge in League One.
For all fans last season — happy about the new owners, manager and player policies — it was with huge regret that Sunderland could not launch an immediate ascent, made worse by how close the club came to grasping glory at Wembley and failing.
But once the dust settled in June, the foundations felt strong with now popular owners, manager and players. The club felt like it had detached much of the crap that dragged it down and was shaping itself up for some inevitable progress. All consistent and nice. Over to you Jack Ross.
It started with a 1-1 draw at home to Oxford United with no last-minute elation. Just Hello 1-1 My Old Friend. The football was flat and too familiar to the turn of 2019, post- that fateful transfer window. Good wins would follow but the performances were wildly unpredictable.
Players starring one week and bombing the next. To pick the bones over player recruitment and selection now that Ross has been sacked, raises some big questions. Not least for the unnamed 10th manager since Gus Poyet, seven seasons ago. Who signs the players and constructs the squad?
Letting Maja go. Signing Grigg. Overloading the midfield and leaving the heart of the team in permanent rotation; blocking the emergence of Embleton, Robson and Mumba.
And what about O’Nien at right back, Baldwin’s demise, Flanagan, and way-too-late-to-the-party Ozturk. Loovens who?! Basically, a complete mystery of a defence and another weird layer to cut through on the way to assessing if life without Ross will be better for Sunderland. Because, was this Ross’ making or was it his burden?
A quote used frequently in the design industry, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, goes: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Was this the season Ross had to reduce and didn’t, or couldn’t? Because of that he was left looking like he didn’t know his best team from match one. And in season two, and after Wembley defeats, and when you should have been beaten by Bolton Wanderers, the pressure weighs down heavy on the decision makers who are so very aware of the fans.
Ominously, it was the way in which the owners stood by Ross that felt like a real and newfound source of strength for the club. So as we start the search again, let’s hope this isn’t another merry go round of managers, except in the third division.
Fans who wanted Ross out and who now want Gareth Ainsworth should think on his success being built over seven years. Would they give seven months to Ainsworth if he wasn’t in the top two? Because rest assured with a new manager, we step backwards, and how many times can we keep doing that.
We go backwards to go forwards, we hope.