In my house there is an increasing divide around Sunderland.
As we have got gradually worse, I have become less willing to share my angst, while my wife has ceased, really, to acknowledge much of our woes - and I don’t blame her. In fact, it’s the right thing to do, because to enter into a discussion about Sunderland with me runs the risk of getting me more irate.
Take yesterday, for example. I walked in after work and said “we’ve just lost to a side who hadn’t won away in 14 months, despite taking the lead. Oh and Will Grigg missed from a yard out.” Her response? Well, she barely broke stride before saying our 14-month old has “had a sh*t on the carpet, so just watch out as it’s drying.”
And you know what? I’m pleased she told me, of course - for obvious reasons - but I was also not bothered in the slightest that the news of our defeat hadn’t registered at all. Because why should she care? Why should any of us? Why should we make this into a bigger thing than it ought to be? Whatsmore, any reasonable observer would legitimately say that it’s been like this for many years now, so are you not used to it?
A couple of hours prior to this I was driving up the M1. It’s infuriating listening to Sunderland when you’re on the road because you cannot physically let your rage out; the opportunity to flail your arms around like you’re on the rides at Alton Towers is not available.
Well you could, but maybe just once.
Granted, you can shout “oh ******* stick it up your ******* **** Parkinson with your **** tactics, utter ******* ******** **** sake give me ******* strength. ****!” at the top of your voice without being reminded your daughter is attempting to have her afternoon nap. The other benefit is thinking “I’ve saved £10” avoiding this utter nonsense on iFollow.
So, swings and roundabouts.
I’ve spent a large part of the season wondering which Phil Parkinson and which Sunderland would, in the words of Eminem, please stand up.
On Saturday, they did, but in the weeks prior they were clearing their throat and getting to their feet. Now I know there’s a big bun fight within fan media and the local press to make the most incisive, pithy and intelligent points about the situation at Sunderland right now; however it all boils down to this: this is a side devoid of creativity and pace because crucially it is being inhibited by the conservative and inflexible style imposed upon it by the manager. And there really are only so many ways to say it.
Sadly all too often it’s been the case at this club, and it remains the case here: it doesn’t have to be this way, but it is. There are other managers who could get a lot more out of this side. These dreadful, negative tactics are not just slowly snuffing the life out of this squad, but throttling it quickly and effectively.
Those who may be able to offer more - Power, O’Brien, Scowen, Grigg to name a few - are either playing within themselves, have had all belief sucked out of them, or don’t realise what players they could be.
Parkinson’s tactics can work, but only in very, very specific circumstances; being able to get it right consistently across 46 games is akin to successfully staying upright on a bucking bronco for 12 hours straight, because pretty quickly teams work us out.
We have seemingly developed a slick, and devastating Phil Parkinson patented confidence-killing machine. This is perhaps the most prescriptive manager I have ever seen at the club; he’s like an American town planner, all grid systems and one way. The truth is, it’s starting to become clear to me that this is why Aidan McGeady has no future under him, because he cannot trust him to carry out his instructions to the absolute letter.
Lord knows I tried to defend him, but the thing is you can only judge on the facts. One year on from his appointment, are we a better side? No. Have we improved our chances of promotion? No. Has he improved any player who was here under Ross? No - except maybe Hume. Are the players, on the evidence, playing for him? No.
Defensively we are better - but if you ask are we better offensively, you are really asking “are we better at winning football matches?” The answer to that is absolutely not.
Therefore, in games you don’t defend well, you’re more than likely to lose 1-0 than draw or sneak a win. Add to this there are currently two strikers at the club who are arguably psychologically damaged by the obvious lack of trust shown in them, and it’s painfully obvious on the pitch. Actually I’ll be honest, it’s embarrassing.
Perhaps most concerning is that there were games last year - Lincoln, Tranmere, Rochdale - where we steamed into a clear lead, however even those types of performances now look far beyond us. A hangover from the Jack Ross era rather than a product of the Phil Parkinson one.
Cameron Jerome summed it up fairly brutally on Twitter - “poor side, average players.”
Even journeyman nonentities you didn’t realise haven’t retired - or maybe hadn’t even heard of - are sticking the boot in, and I’ll be honest, it stings.
Interestingly though it’s a bit of a dig at Parky, because he’s saying your players are average, but your team is worse because of the way it’s managed. My word, even the opposition realise it - and really, that’s the problem.