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Stick or twist? Examining the choice between backing or sacking the Sunderland manager

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“It’s not an easy situation, it will be brave to carry on supporting Parkinson and hoping for a change in fortunes and arguably an even braver decision to admit they have made the wrong appointment” writes Chris Wynn.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16 Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Last week, the much-criticised owners of a football club took decisive action and sacked their manager. This manager had won 3 games in his previous 11 in charge, whilst sitting 4 league positions and 8 points from their target for the season. Much to the frustration of many Sunderland fans, the club in question was Arsenal.

This decision was not taken lightly and was taken by a club that have had only seven permanent manager appointments since 1966. But they saw a side that were drifting and realised that Unai Emery was not the right fit for the club and took action.

In all fairness, the Sunderland ownership also saw a side drifting away from their objective. This time in the form of a run that included 2 defeats in 11 games and finding ourselves 4 league positions and 3 points from our target for the season, which led to the same conclusion that a change was needed. There weren’t many arguments from the fans, and they then had a decision to make to ensure their roll of the dice would come off.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One
Stewart Donald
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Appointment Process

From recent interviews with the owners, they presented a picture that Phil Parkinson interviewed very well. What we can be sure of, from this statement and also the new managers own words during his first press conference, is that Parkinson was confident he could give the team that additional boost to push us from play-off form up to a level that would take us to the dizzy heights of the top two.

I think the process that started to be put in place - they were very unlucky last year not to get over the line - and my job now is to find that extra 10-15 per cent from individuals and the team to bridge that gap between the play-off position last year and hopefully the top two this year - Phil Parkinson

It would be concerning if the course of that conversation went down the route of needing to go backwards to go forwards, with the need for re-building the squad in the January window to kick on in the new year. The owners would surely have expected at the very least for results to reflect the ability of the squad, and it’s difficult to argue against this squad having the ability to finish in the top six in League One.

The other consideration regarding the appointment of Phil Parkinson, is the style of play that has been utilised at his previous clubs. Discounting the fact whether or not this style of football is appealing or not – the fact remains that it is almost the complete opposite of what we were trying (arguably unsuccessfully) to do under Jack Ross.

This means we now have a squad of players who were recruited to play in the way Jack Ross saw fit and were drilled for a season and a half to have a particular outlook on and off the ball.

Does this mean that during the appointment process we agreed that we needed to limp along to January when we’d rebuild the squad in the mould that Parkinson wanted to play? Or did Parkinson state he would get results with the current squad and it would require improvements in specific areas during the window?

We could probably guess at which conversation during the interview process was more likely.

Sunderland v Bradford City - Sky Bet League One
Charlie Methven
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Results

Since Parkinson has taken over we have won 2 games in 11, and find ourselves sitting 9 league positions and 9 points from our target for the season.

Could it be argued that there are green shoots that things might improve? Unfortunately for Parkinson the stats are almost as damning as the results, where we have slight encouragement in our defensive setup but a decline in our attacking intent.

Has Parkinson given the fans hope that he can see the issues and is the man to turn it around? – if the post-match comments at Gillingham are anything to go by… this is a no.

It’s clear that a public dressing down of a team is rarely successful for a football manager, but to give the team praise after 90 minutes where they have failed to produce a shot on target is a message that needs to be carefully crafted to gain acceptance from the fan base.

Predictably, criticism came in Parkinson’s direction and has meant any comments the manager has made recently has come under severe scrutiny. Player interviews have also become strained in this time – no public messages of support for the manager are possibly revealing and hints of disharmony in the ranks are worrying.

Sunderland v Southend United - Sky Bet Leauge One
Phil Parkinson
Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What Next?

So, results have been poor, performances have been very poor, support is scarce from within the playing staff (at least in public) and from the fans – so what next?

Sticking with Parkinson to allow him to spend whatever money is available with a view to create the squad as he sees fit and implement the style of football that has worked for him in the past, is the only argument I see to keeping him in the role.

This would leave four games in December to negotiate followed by another six games in January - as we can safely assume that the restructuring of the squad will not be complete on the first day of January. This takes us to 27 games into the league campaign where we would then have less than half the season to salvage something, which on current form will be unlikely if not impossible.

This talk of January also gives the impression we’re hanging on for the transfer window, and then the obvious question is - hanging on for what exactly? A new squad? Implementing a different playing style? The January transfer window is notorious for being difficult to get even a small level of recruitment right, never mind trying to rebuild a squad.

Clubs are inevitably challenging at either ends of the table and understandably holding onto valuable players. This either results in inflated transfer fees or ultimately making them unavailable - we only need to look at the outcome of January 2018 to see how wrong it can go.

If Parkinson can’t get a tune out of the current playing staff and is waiting to turn it around with new blood in the window, then for me it’s essentially admitting the appointment is a failure. Where will the line be drawn – how long will we accept this level of performance, and more importantly results, before Parkinson’s job is under consideration?

It’s not an easy situation, it will be brave to carry on supporting Parkinson and hoping for a change in fortunes and arguably an even braver decision to admit they have made the wrong appointment. Taking into account our current trajectory however, the equation is simple.