From bad to worse, to pretty much intolerable. If the shambolic defeat at home to Burton resulted in Sunderland sailing headlong into the doldrums, Saturday’s equally dismal reverse away at Gillingham has marooned us in the soulless no-man’s land that is mid-table.
Quite simply, the Phil Parkinson era is unfolding more disastrously than surely even the most sceptical fan could’ve ever imagined it would. Post-Tranmere, a game after which I showered praise onto the players for their positive style of play, it would’ve taken a clairvoyant with an extremely powerful crystal ball to foresee just how calamitous the subsequent downturn in results and performances would be.
The league and FA Cup exits; the lifeless, limp defeats to Scunthorpe and Leicester, not to mention our dreadful league form which has seen us slip backwards at an alarming rate, all combined to make a poisonous cocktail.
The alleged non-negotiable of automatic promotion is now all but gone, and at this point, the best we can seemingly hope for is to hit something approaching 2006/2007 form from January and make a late-season dash for the play-offs. Unlikely, barring one of the most seismically successful transfer windows that we’ve had in recent memory, but at this point any shred of hope, however faint, is worth clinging onto.
During the dying embers of the Jack Ross era it was suggested by some that ‘there were literally hundreds of managers out there who could get this team promoted’. I wonder how well that theory stands up now? It is not rewriting history to state that, under Ross, we would not have hit such a wretched run of form or become such a soft-touch.
Yes, his time at Sunderland had run its course, but with every dismal result that the bland, cliche-spouting, seemingly out-of-his-depth Parkinson oversees, it makes you wonder whether Jack Ross was actually doing a better job of coaxing a tune out of this team than we gave him credit for.
The ‘best team in the league’ argument is now extinct. At this moment in time this squad is a rabble, a mish-mash of out-of-form players, many of whom simply do not have the stomach for what is turning into an epic fight this season.
Much vitriol has been directed at the ownership, some of it justified, some of it slightly scattergun, some of it extremely pertinent, but all of it worth listening to. The big question of, ‘Who is actually running this football club on a day to day basis?’ now looms ever larger.
With Charlie Methven having tendered his resignation (the correct decision, without a doubt) the entire club from boardroom level downwards now finds itself in a state of flux. Those in positions of power don’t seem to know what’s going on, so how should the fans?
One thing is for certain, however: the unrest is growing. Murmurs of protests and boycotts were growing louder on Twitter over the weekend, and any goodwill that Stewart Donald had accrued over the last eighteen months has now vanished. ‘Sell up and go!’ came the demands post-Gillingham. Maybe he will, but you can’t see it happening any time soon.
The narrative for Saturday almost writes itself. Simon Grayson brings his Blackpool team to the SOL with revenge on his mind. They perform, we don’t turn up, and they take the points whilst simultaneously adding to our ongoing misery.
What will the turnout be? How long before the fans ‘turn’? How will the players deal with the restlessness and the frustration that is sure to manifest itself? Somehow, the players and manager must attempt to deliver against what will be extremely long odds, and perhaps a siege mentality might drag something extra out of them. They should be angry and embarrassed, and perhaps that will be the stimulus that they need.
The current situation is completely unacceptable, but there are only eleven men who can attempt to rectify it. Against Blackpool, these players need to turn in a performance that we can take some pride in.
The gutlessness and the timidness simply cannot be allowed to slide.