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Has Phil Parkinson taken Sunderland as far as he can?

After eight games Sunderland sit seven points behind the league leaders Lincoln City, outside of the top six. Has Phil Parkinson taken us just about as far as he can, or is it too early to be calling for his head?

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Am I wrong for waking up today and wanting a change in manager? I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, because it doesn’t feel like two minutes since I was praising Phil Parkinson for our start to the season. Managing to go unbeaten, keeping many clean sheets along the way, was impressive. Yet, after the last two results and performances it almost feels as though what we witnessed in those first six games was simply masking over a bunch of problems that will never go away for as long as he’s in charge.

I understand that trying to convince people that this is the right approach for the club to take will be ten times more difficult if we win at Gillingham on Saturday - which is entirely likely, given that they are a team you’d expect to just about edge over ninety minutes - but it takes me back to my first point: even then, is that good enough? What does three points really mean to Sunderland on Saturday when it’s possible that we’ll still be seven off the league leaders, plodding our way through games playing a terrible brand of football?

Before the season began I was keen to give Parkinson the benefit of the doubt. I said that it would be fair to judge him around eight or ten games in to the season, because by that point you can gauge what course the team will take under the stewardship of this manager between now and the end of the season. As we reach that stage, I can’t say with any conviction that I believe we’ll be promoted under this manager, playing like we are.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

In particular, his neglect of our best young players staggers me. Last night really tipped me over the edge - what on earth was the point in picking that bench? Who on there did he expect would have the ability to turn a game on its head should we need a shot in the arm?

No Jack Diamond. No Dan Neil.

No Benji Kimpioka, who has scored 6 in 4 games for the U23s.

Now I’m not saying that these lads should be starting every week, but their inclusion on the bench gives us a variety of options in the event that we need them.

Not only that, but it shows that this manager is invested in the jewel in the crown that is our category one status academy.

It’s clear that Parkinson, despite what he often says about giving these lads chances, has absolutely no faith in young players. He’d sooner sign a 36-year-old striker over a promising lower-league forward still waiting for their first opportunity. That’s just the kind of manager that he is - his entire career to this point tells us that Phil Parkinson favours experience.

At some clubs that might not be an issue. Bradford, Bolton, Colchester - fair enough, those are clubs where you often have limited resources, and it makes more sense to cobble together a side littered with players who have shown they can do it in the past.

But, at Sunderland that’s just not acceptable.

Swindon Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Jack Diamond has featured this season, but hasn’t been given a fair crack of the whip
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

We have a category one academy. We have the best facilities of any club in the second and third tier, in my opinion. Any manager should relish the chance to work under such conditions, because it’s a chance to develop seriously talented youngsters into first teamers. All coaches should aspire to play their part in developing the stars of the future.

This really should have been a deciding factor in giving him the job in the first place - something I wasn’t totally sold on at the time. I recently looked back through Parkinson’s successful sides at Bolton, Colchester and Bradford and noted that even despite managing skint clubs, he rarely placed faith in youth.

Nothing about this man demonstrates that when he tells us “these players will get chances” that they actually will. His policy on youth does not tally up with what should be the aspiration of a club that has fantastic youth facilities, and that makes him a bad choice.

That is, however, just one problem. His failure to get a tune from players who would otherwise walk into most other League One sides irritates me greatly. Jack Ross had this problem too, but with Parkinson the circumstances feel slightly different.

Take Will Grigg, for example. His form in pre-season was great. He returned looking fitter, mentally sharper and just a better all-round player after the COVID lay-off, and we were all genuinely excited to see what he could do.

But, Parkinson has denied him any real chance of showing his worth to the side. He’s barely featured since that run in the side during pre-season and I imagine that any enthusiasm he himself had towards making a proper go for it at Sunderland has dissipated.

Sunderland v Harrogate Town - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

He’s not the only one, though. We signed a bunch of players who were clearly Parkinson picks in the summer, and the only one he’s shown any real faith in is Bailey Wright, whom we’d already seen plenty of last season. Are there signs that the likes of O’Brien and Graham are going to make a real difference to this side any time soon?

And that’s the gist of it, really - how much further can Parkinson realistically take us?

He deserves immense credit for ridding Sunderland of the problems he inherited from Jack Ross. He managed to up the professionalism of the squad, and improved their fitness considerably.

That said, we were told when he was appointed that his sole task was to get the club promoted. Perhaps the way the League One season ended has afforded him some leeway, but Parky never managed to get us out of the division, and early forecasts suggest that we’re not much better this time around, in a worse league.

If rumours about a potential takeover of the club are true, Parkinson is surely on borrowed time. He’s taken Sunderland about as far as he can, and perhaps as a new broom sweeps clean, he can be moved along in favour of a manager capable of taking this club forward over the long term. As short term appointments go, Parky has done a fairly decent job, but I don’t believe he’s done enough to suggest he can get us promoted - and with League One being the weakest it has been since we dropped to this level, that’s not good enough.

For Sunderland to truly kick on, under new owners, we have to place more focus on youth development. Whoever is in charge, whoever is the manager - they have to see that the greatest selling point this club has is its youth academy.

Everyone, from owner, to CEO, to manager, has to be on the same page in that regard. We should be building this club around that academy, not ignoring it in favour of a policy that only reaps rewards over the short-term.

That, unfortunately, means there’s no place for Phil Parkinson. If things on the ownership front are as close as the rumours suggest, I’d make the change early and concentrate on getting this team competing at the top of the table, with an attitude that picking up a point away to Rochdale does not equate to an acceptable performance.

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