It goes without saying that Sunderland need to make a managerial appointment sooner rather than later, but perhaps the most important thing is that the club’s owners get what will undoubtedly prove to be a defining decision absolutely spot on.
Everything would point to today being the day that we finally get some positive news on that front - whether that comes to fruition of course depends upon which manager they approach, but the suggestion yesterday made by the Northern Echo was that a decision would be made by the end of today on who Sunderland’s board will choose to appoint.
The writer of the piece, Scott Wilson, has alleged that the two leading candidates for the role are Gareth Ainsworth and Phil Parkinson, two men who are deservedly in the running but haven’t perhaps inspired the vast majority of Sunderland supporters, many of whom were hoping for a ‘bigger’ name to be at the head of Stewart Donald’s shortlist.
I suppose in the case of Ainsworth that is fair. He’s very much the flavour of the month currently and his overachieving Wycombe side are defying expectations in League One, sitting in second place. That said, his record prior to this season is relatively uninspiring and he’s very much viewed as a manager with potential, rather than someone established who you can feel confident about as the club attempts to mount a serious charge towards the automatic promotion spots.
Parkinson, however, has been there and done it before and is perhaps seen as someone who may not play particularly inspiring football, but gets results. Ultimately that is all the new manager needs to achieve - Sunderland have to get promoted this season, by hook or by crook. Failure to do so sets us back even further, and the club’s owners know this. They wouldn’t have sacked Jack Ross if they didn’t feel we needed to do everything within our power to get out of League One at the second time of asking.
Whilst the remit of the new manager, whoever he may be, is to achieve promotion, the truth of it is that they’re actually walking into a pretty decent situation.
They aren’t walking into a club that resembles the site of a plane crash. The ship left behind by the previous incumbent of the Sunderland manager’s office is one that has been steadied, one that merely requires some tweaking in order to get to where we need to be.
Sunderland haven’t kept a clean sheet all season, and one of the first things the new manager needs to do is work on improving our leaky defence, establishing a back five you can depend on to play most weeks whilst simultaneously improving our defensive record. Jack Ross played ‘defensive’ football that ultimately failed in its primary goal to increase defensive solidity. If his replacement can somehow work out how we can stop conceding stupid goals, we’ll naturally win more games across the entirety of the season.
Perhaps the bigger task is in finding a way of playing that gets goals from our misfiring strikers. Marc McNulty is probably our best centre forward and, fitness issues aside, has largely played well. That said, the form of Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke ever since both men arrived at the club for big money has been concerning, and it was clear for a long time that Jack Ross simply wasn’t playing to the strengths of the men heading up his attack.
Whilst Grigg has convinced nobody with his performances thus far at Sunderland, finding the key to unlocking his goalscoring ability could genuinely be a difference-maker in the promotion race.
One of the first things our new manager must do is to stick an arm around the Northern Ireland striker and remind him of just how good he is. Reassure him that he’ll do whatever it takes to mould this side around him, create chances and rebuild the confidence that has been fractured by almost nine months of Jack Ross’s football.
It’s easier said than done of course, and I’m perhaps stating the obvious, but any success that the next man has hinges on delivering clean sheets and getting his previously misfiring strikers to regain their self-belief. There’s no major surgery needed - just the realisation that there were some gaping holes in the gameplan of the last manager who, for whatever reason, was not capable of delivering a consistent level of performances from a squad of players who many believe to be the strongest of any side competing in the division.
To me, the task of the next man to take the Sunderland manager’s job is relatively straightforward. We don’t need a ‘big name’ in order to achieve success this season, we just need someone who is capable of organising their team and ensuring that everyone knows what their role and job in the side is.
If that man is Phil Parkinson then so be it. His Bolton team that was promoted in 2017 conceded less goals than any other side in the division. Likewise, when Parkinson’s Colchester were promoted in 2006 they conceded less goals than any other team in League One. His Bradford side that got to a League Cup Final and won the Play-Off Final in 2013 had the joint-second best defensive record in League Two. One thing we can surely expect is that, if he is the next manager, that he will address Sunderland’s issue with defending, which had Jack Ross been able to solve it last season we would have undoubtedly gone up automatically.
His promotion-winning teams not only have exemplary defensive records, but they also tend to have an in-form striker, and they score a lot of goals from set pieces.
If the next manager can tweak the side that Jack Ross has left behind and make them better at both ends of the pitch then he’ll surely get Sunderland promoted. Only time will tell, of course, but there is no need for a massive overhaul.
If today is the day I just hope that, regardless of our own personal worries around suitability, the next Sunderland manager is given unanimous backing from the fanbase, is welcomed with open arms and is given the best possible support that we can give so that he can get off to a perfect start at the weekend.
We fans have a part to play here and, regardless of how we may feel about a whole matter of different issues, we can genuinely make the difference. We all want Sunderland to get promoted and giving the new manager our full support from the off will be crucial to how successful they are able to be this season.