As the final whistle brought to a close a disappointing draw at home to Gillingham in the first round of the FA Cup, the thought of the difficult road ahead sat festering in the minds of many Sunderland fans.
Phil Parkinson is in a thoroughly difficult position. To be fair, any manager would be if they were in charge of Sunderland right now. The former Bolton boss has taken over a team that has little semblance of footballing identity, struggles to score, and lacks of pace and balance throughout the side.
However, the new boss has limited means with which to work. On paper this Sunderland side are a good one, but their strained performances paint the picture of a side struggling for confidence on the pitch.
Parkinson must do his best to reverse those falterings, but this is an uphill battle that won’t easily be remedied.
The primary issue Parkinson faces is finding a way to get his side firing in the league. At present this Sunderland side struggle to score, and aside from battering Tranmere, Sunderland’s forwards continue to look edgy in front of goal.
Charlie Methven noted on the Roker Rapprt podcast this weekend that Parkinson will be backed in January:
We had a discussion, the board had a discussion with the manager when he came in and we made it clear that we would support him in the January transfer window - this is before that investment is made - really speaking, that was going to happen anyway. This investment isn’t about what we are going to be doing in January, that was going to happen in any case.
By hook or by crook, Parkinson simply has to get his side winning ahead of January when he will hopefully be able to shuffle the deck and bring in four or five players required to help our team get moving in the right direction.
However, Sunderland have six games between now and January 1st - Parkinson will know full well that poor form leading into the new year could seriously harm his side’s ability to challenge for promotion. Sunderland must find ways to win going into the end of this calendar year if they are to build the platform required to challenge for promotion.
Short term success equating to promotion from this league is, of course, the prime goal. However, Parkinson also faces another issue in that his scouting network - headed up by Tony Coton - is in its infancy as it looks to grow.
In the Roker Rapport podcast, Methven and Paul Reid spoke at length about the club’s plans for our expanding scouting department:
I think there will be more detail on this in the very, very near future and it’s been noted in the local and fan media that a Scandanavian head scout has been appointed full-time, there’s also a full-time scout approved in the Midlands and I think there will be another full-time appointment as well.
Then below that you have a bunch of part-time people reporting in to those heads, so in terms of a structure it’s something Tony Coton has been working on with Richard Hill and the board for some time now and it’s obviously relevant to the Academy as well because once you’ve got these regional heads, then you can start looking at well what kind of local scouts in those areas can report into those regional heads on Academy recruitment as well.
You actually start to build up a network of people who are being overseen and managed in the right way by people used to managing team of scouts because as Paul said earlier on it’s not any more about a bloke in a sheepskin standing on a touchline, these things have to be structured, they have to be processes, they have to be durable.
We are trying to build something here that is of lasting significance to the club and these things do take a little bit of time to bed in and to come to fruition, getting the rounds pegs in the round holes and then finding the right young player who then comes into the Academy, who then might take another two years before he fulfills his potential.
Jack Ross had total control over Sunderland’s transfer policy when in charge of the side, so it will be interesting to see whether Phil Parkinson chooses to utilize his new scouting team’s knowledge. Will Sunderland look to Scandinavia, for example, as a region from which to bring in reinforcements this January, or will Parkinson go with his gut and bring in more familiar faces he believes will be capable of getting Sunderland into the Championship?
Considering a club the size of Sunderland brings with it the expectation for success, Phil Parkinson faces a thoroughly difficult task in trying to manage both the short term needs of the club alongside implementing a long term approach to finding success.