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Fan Letters: An honest review of why Sunderland didn’t manage to achieve automatic promotion

RR reader Jonathan Carty has given us his honest assessment of what he feels Sunderland have got wrong this year and why that meant we weren’t able to achieve automatic promotion. Email us:!

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve just read the latest letter to your site regarding our current situation and frankly I’m actually ‘amazed that people are amazed’ at fans being disappointed with the season so far.

The owners have on the whole done a fantastic job of steadying the ship, bringing the players in using their own money and getting the club in a state where Short has been paid off early.

We have a team and squad accrued from the premiership, the championship, from teams who won the league in this division and from a Cat A academy.

All of this is to be applauded - however we’re selling the owners short by saying that we’ve signed ‘discarded players’ when the truth of it is that we’ve spent double the total transfer money of the whole league combined.

Despite the above backing the team have all season been woefully short of pace, guile and physical presence right across the pitch - especially in midfield and central defence. This has never been addressed.

By the stats we have only created the same number of goal scoring chances as a mid table team, and we consistently allow the same number of clear goal scoring opportunities at the other end against us as a typical mid table team.

We have over relied on:

- Maja scoring 1 in 2 of the few chances we created.

- McLoughlin making saves every week that gave him MOTM type ratings (in a team chasing promotion).

- McGeady to ‘do something different’ and create chances when the rest of the team can’t.

We have never looked like a well put together team with a settled first 11 who knew what was required of them on the pitch. Let alone dominated matches for long spells or put together the same type of performances, scorelines and winning runs that the top two managed with ease.

All of the above; the lack of a plan, the lack of pace, the lack of physical presence, starting well then sitting back and inviting the opposition to attack to level the scores - have been discussed after each match ad infinitum since October. We simply have never looked convincingly like a team going for promotion after the first month or so of the season.

We have missed out on automatic promotion despite drawing 19 matches, 11 of these draws were after we lost a lead we held in the match.

If we’d held on in 2 or 3 of these matches we’d have gone up automatically.

In the final run in of ‘must win’ matches at the end of the season we; barely registered a shot on target until late in the second half (Peterborough), took the lead against a mid table team with nothing to play for and sat back and barely cared as they first equalised and then scored the winner (Fleetwood), and capitulated to a team in the relegation zone (Southend). We won once in these 7 matches - if we’d won 2 more of these and drawn another we’d have gone up automatically.

That’s why the season so far has been a disappointing one, because the margins have been so narrow and we’ve failed to take advantage when we could.

Let me say we have no divine right to go up automatically because we’re the so called biggest club in this division - we’re in this situation because we deserve to be.

However we do have the right to point out the above truths and doing so does not make us deluded or lesser fans than others.

The important thing now is to look forward to the play offs and try to gain promotion to the championship this season or risk losing McGeady and McLoughlin and having to start all over without the two most important players.

The review can wait until the close season and the club can decide on the way forward, hopefully by clearing out more high earners and allowing Ross to bring in players who can compliment our existing team and play the fast, attacking, pressing game he described when he arrived last summer.


Jonathan Carty

Ed’s Note [Gav]: Your thoughts pretty much echo my own and those are all things I’ve tried to express in reply to various letters over the last week or so. Ultimately I feel our recruitment has not been good enough over the two windows we’ve had since the club was taken over. When we sat down last summer to work out what we needed it should have been made clear that Sunderland’s squad NEEDS pace, power and height. We failed spectacularly in our efforts to add players who gave us those things - though it is worth noting that the club did indeed try to recruit several players who would have added those attributes but, ultimately, were not able to.

Kamberi and Taylor held talks but chose other clubs and they would have given our forward line some bustle and athleticism, whilst in midfield we had George Evans practically signed but he decided Derby was a more suitable destination at the last minute. We threw money at Cheltenham for the pacey striker Mo Eisa but Bristol City paid a lot more than we were prepared to, and whilst he’s done nothing since his big move it’s not inconceivable that he could have been a success here. Ultimately, the alternatives that we targeted didn’t necessarily have attributes we needed, or couldn’t stay fit.

We had a chance to put things right in January and actually signed some very good players, but in hindsight our business does seem a little odd. Jimmy Dunne hasn’t really impressed despite being a towering figure, though bizarrely just as he was starting to do okay a few weeks ago he was dropped for Tom Flanagan. Grant Leadbitter is an asset to this squad but some variety in centre midfield to compliment what he, Cattermole and McGeouch offer would have been beneficial. And, whilst we were all over the moon that we signed Grigg, as it has transpired we signed an injured player who since arriving has struggled to get fit.

There are several big lessons to be learned from the last twelve months or so, whether we remain in League One or go up to the Championship. The new owners and people in charge at all levels seem attentive and I’d like to think they’ll try to accept where things haven’t worked and look to put those right in the summer.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I want to remind fans about the importance of patience.

The one thing missing in the arguments from fans defending Jack Ross and the owners is that you have to remember they’re rebuilding the very essence of the club. To create a ‘culture’ takes years of work, one season isn’t enough.

SD said at the start of the season that we need to be making use of our academy which is one of the best in the country yet has only produced 2 current top-flight players. To see the rewards of an effective academy system will take 2/3 seasons at least.

He also wants players who want to play for Sunderland. Everyone complaining about the sale of Maja should remember he asked to leave. People who think buying/keeping players just for the sake of keeping the team barely afloat should look back at any season in the last decade and remember the leeches we’ve had as a result of this policy.

I would rather take another season or two in league one, and build the club on a foundation that will serve us well for decades to come, than lose whatever identity we have left in the pursuit of points.

Jay Hughes

Ed’s Note [Gav]: You’re very right and I think I’ve come to appreciate that more and more over recent weeks. We’re all absolutely gutted that we didn’t achieve automatic promotion but the fact is that the club has changed immensely over the last twelve months and as such it’s tough to expect immediate perfection.

But, however you view what has gone on and where your own expectations are at is a totally personal thing. I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect we’d get everything immediately right but then I completely see where people are coming from when they cite that we’ve had ample chances this season to ensure we got a top two spot.

Ultimately, the inquest cannot start until we know our fate. I genuinely think though that if we go up people won’t worry too much about the fact we couldn’t pip Luton and Barnsley.

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