Dear Roker Report,
I have recently changed my TV provider so treated myself over the last week or so to Sunderland til I die on Netflix - I had to watch it over a few nights as you can only take so much angst in one sitting.
My overall impression was the eternal optimism of us Mackems and the ability of our team to help this feeling (comeback against Bristol/Derby County result) only to dash it with no run of consistency.
Looking at it one year on and a similar story albeit towards the top of (yes) a lower league. Just after Sunderland til I Die ended there was talk of us hiring Chris Wilder (wonder what he is doing next season?).
Of course I would take promotion through the play-offs, but come what may the last thing we should do is change manager. Promoted or not there will be player changes, some sold, some bought loanees returned and brought in, and youngsters tried out.
Looking at the two teams promoted from the Championship so far this season, Norwich and Sheffield United, where were they in the Championship last year? With family in Norwich I know many fans were asking for their manager’s head a year ago - they ain’t now.
Keep the faith.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Good points all round. There is maybe something in what has happened with Norwich. Their fans were properly split on Farke at one stage and it looked like pressure would see him lose his job, but he was given the time to mould his squad properly and out of nowhere they’ve earned promotion.
That’s not to say that the exact same thing will happen to Jack Ross at Sunderland, but it is a reminder that sometimes the club has to back the man in charge to make it work.
If Sunderland don’t go up then there’ll be a full blown inquest into what went wrong for us this season. But, until all is said and done, that surely can’t occur yet. All we can do at this stage is place faith in the manager and players to get the job done.
Dear Roker Report,
To say that the defeat at Fleetwood was disappointing is surely an understatement. Our failure to beat Portsmouth in the last home game, in what was in effect a must-win affair was always going to mean that we’d only have a very slim chance of automatic promotion. Still, to have that chance finally taken away in the manner we did at Highbury was a bit of a kick in the teeth, while the fact that it was against a side managed by ex-Mag Joey Barton tended to add insult to injury. It’s my guess that Mr Barton may well have had a quiet chuckle to himself after the game, and to be honest, who could really blame him?
The harsh fact is that the league table doesn’t lie, and while our early-season form suggested that we may make it back to the Championship at the first attempt, it’s a team’s form over THE WHOLE of the season which counts. Sadly, we just haven’t been consistent enough to justify a top-two placing.
We have been consistent in one respect: drawing games. But, the rather alarming stat of nineteen league draws says an awful lot, it’s certainly not really associated with a side which has genuine promotion ambitions. Only Barnsley and Luton have really displayed the sort of consistency necessary for success, and as such they deserve to be where they are right now.
However back to ourselves, and in addition to far too many draws, other factors have contributed to our failure to make a really sustained push, i.e. defensive deficiencies (as was graphically illustrated last night and vs. Coventry recently), also a lack of a really settled line-up, which I guess is the root of our problems. This perhaps raises questions/doubts re: player recruitment, and whether or not the overall quality of our squad was up to scratch/good enough to make a sustained automatic promotion challenge?
Then again, I suppose one has to view our situation from a different angle/in a different context, and look at the “bigger picture”, and as such, have some folk maybe expected too much too soon? Was immediate promotion, at least automatically, a bit of “a bridge too far” this time round, and if it had been achieved, would it have been a bonus, or maybe even come too soon, in view of the re-building job which needed to be done at the club? Were the aforementioned weaknesses maybe par for the course as part of this re-building job?
Maybe one needs to consider the facts, i.e. we landed up in League One as the result of several years of, shall we say, willful neglect, and with this being Jack Ross’ first season South of the border/his first season at a major club (no disrespect intended to his previous club’s of course), and in view of what he inherited, was he REALLY expected to wave the proverbial “magic wand” and bring about an immediate/overnight cure to his new club’s many problems?
Maybe a bit of an ask, and all things considered, I feel that season 2018-19 must rank as being like a Champion’s League campaign, when compared to what we’ve had to endure in recent times, while Jack Ross has surely taken on “saviour status” in comparison to some of his predecessors, i.e. a certain one whose “words of wisdom” after only two games of season 2016-17 proved (unfortunately) to be correct. Our chance of automatic promotion may have gone, but while a “second chance” exists via the play-offs, surely we have to put our disappointment to one side and go for it, even though our record in that particular competition is not all that brilliant, and in spite of recent form perhaps casting a doubt over our chances in “the lottery“ as it were.
But whatever happens, surely the time to pass judgement is when all options have been exhausted, and even if we don’t make it back to the Championship this time round, perhaps we’ll hopefully bounce back stronger in 2019-20, rather like we did under Reidy back in 1998-99 after the play-off disappointment in that epic game v Charlton. Not necessarily in the same record-breaking manner, but still through being hopefully wiser and stronger for past experiences.
Which is why I feel that the latest calls for Jack Ross to be replaced are possibly a bit premature, if not just plain silly. OK, so maybe his tactics and game management in recent games have been questionable, but the thing is if Ross departs, then who takes his place? Is “managerial musical chairs” not partly responsible for us being in league One to begin with?
Whatever happens this season, I’d say give the manager at least one more season at the helm, for perhaps 2018-19 has been a “learning curve” of sorts, when Jack Ross got to assess his squad etc., and just generally try and get to grips with the massive job at hand, one of trying to restore some dignity and pride to the fallen giant that is SAFC. So hopefully with the benefit of hindsight, he’d be able to galvanize his squad over the summer to thus make us better prepared for 2019-20, whichever division we’re in.
However, continuity is a vital ingredient in any club, and is something which has been missing at ours for some time, so maybe then we need to be a bit more patient and not be too hasty, after all, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as the saying goes, and the same surely applies to the resurrection of Sunderland AFC. We may well be the biggest club in League One, but even so, we still have no god-given right to achieve promotion, or indeed any kind of success, for as in life in general, we have to earn everything we get, and if that takes time, expenditure or whatever, then so be it.
Ed’s Note [Tom]: Some great points in this letter, Andrew, thanks for writing in and offering your opinion.
I would agree with most of what you have noted. Recruitment needs to be improved, Jack Ross has performed a solid job in nurturing the club back to some semblance of health after a difficult period, and he definitely deserves another season, at the very least, to mold the team into a side capable of finding automatic promotion and being capable of holding their own in the Championship.
One note I would add, though, is that fans do have a right to be bitterly disappointed. A matter of weeks ago we held the initiative and could easily have secured automatic promotion had we won the games we had in hand over opposition sides. Instead, the side stumbled at the final hurdle. Draws borne from an inability to find ways to secure a winning goal have left us facing the lottery that is the play-offs. So, yes I’d agree this season has been a learning curve, but I think it’s also fair to say it has been disappointing that we were unable to gain automatic promotion when the chance was there for us to take a matter of weeks ago. As such, I can understand fans’ frustrations.