Sunderland conceded a 93rd-minute goal to draw away at Doncaster yesterday, which meant Phil Parkinson’s side dropped to eighth in the League One table.
The Black Cats took the lead just before half-time courtesy of Grant Leadbitter’s screamer but, after being barely tested throughout the match, Remi Matthews conceded from close range as Feriji Okenabirhie capitalised on Bailey Wright’s failed clearance.
The result heaped mounting pressure on Parkinson, as Sunderland’s quest for promotion to the Championship slips further and further away.
Should Phil Parkinson be sacked as manager of Sunderland?
After last week’s defeat to MK Dons, I wondered how many more bad results Parkinson could afford to suffer.
After yesterday’s late collapse, which was massively influenced by the manager’s failure to be proactive and change the game, I can’t imagine many Sunderland fans out there think he is the right man to take the club forward.
To be fair, it was an improved first-half performance, however in the second 45 Sunderland’s attack completely dropped off, while other players were visibly fatigued.
Yet the manager made no tactical or physical changes until the 82nd minute.
During a good spell last season and the beginning of this season, Parkinson was credited with solidifying a previously leaky defence – but after failing to keep a clean sheet in five matches, it is clear Parkinson’s defensive bubble has burst.
Sunderland’s recent form has clearly demonstrated that we do not score enough goals. And, combined with our vulnerability at the back, it means our form is not good enough to achieve promotion.
Parkinson has shown an inability to change his formation, an obsession with selecting experience over youth, as well as a reluctance to make proactive substitutions to influence the game.
His post-match comments demonstrated his negative mentality and acceptance of mediocrity – he acted as if an away point against Doncaster was a result to be proud of.
He was hired with the single aim of achieving promotion, yet his average league position during his time here is seventh, and he has only won three more matches than he has lost in charge.
It is simply not good enough.
Many fans have always said they will accept Parkinson’s negative style if it works and he achieves promotion – if it does not work all we are left with is watching dreadful, depressing football and a team who are underachieving.
Why does Parkinson not use his substitutes?
The most frustrating part of yesterday’s draw was Parkinson’s reluctance to make substitutions.
In a week in which the EFL allowed clubs to make five substitutions per game to prevent increasing injuries, Parkinson only made one change in normal time – and that one came with only eight minutes left to play.
As Doncaster grew into the match, fans on social media were screaming for reinforcements to be introduced, but they never came.
Although Sunderland produced an improved first-half display, in the second-half our attack was non-existent.
Charlie Wyke could not retain the ball, Chris Maguire was anonymous and Lynden Gooch had clearly ran out of steam around 70 minutes.
Despite this, only Maguire was removed for Elliot Embleton on the 82nd minute, with Gooch not replaced until added time for Max Power.
Parkinson had like-for-like replacements available, which was the most confusing factor.
Danny Graham could have replaced a struggling Wyke to hold the ball up, Jack Diamond would have added useful pace and directness against a side pushing forward to equalise, plus Embleton arguably could made a difference if given more time.
Even if you wanted to go as far as five, Dion Sanderson and Max Power could have provided like-for-like replacements for tired legs.
Instead of attempting to influence the match, Parkinson stuck with his policy of trying to keep everything the same for entire game.
It must be incredibly frustrating and demotivating for any Sunderland substitute knowing you are never going to get more than 10-15 minutes on the pitch – if you’re even used at all.
Diamond, for example, has only made two substitute appearances – one forced by injury – despite being on the bench for most of the season.
Also, Sunderland themselves had been affected by the increased injury trend as Parkinson currently has four centre-backs – Jordan Willis, Arbenit Zhemajli, Morgan Feeney and Ollie Younger – sidelined.
It must be so easy for opposition managers to analyse Sunderland knowing Parkinson will not change his system or regularly bring on players to change anything during the match.
Has Conor McLaughlin found a new position?
Despite the last two talking points being massively negative, I thought it would be good to end on a positive note by highlighting the improved form of Conor McLaughlin.
Last season the Northern Ireland international endured an appalling campaign, initially playing left back after Denver Hume’s poor start to the season.
He ended up becoming the player who was always on the bench, but was never brought on by Parkinson.
However, through Sunderland’s central defensive injury crisis, he has produced some impressive displays at right-centre back or as the centre piece of the three.
Against the likes of Crewe, Gillingham, Ipswich and Mansfield he has looked comfortable in the position, which he also plays regularly alongside Tom Flanagan as cover for his country.
Yesterday McLaughlin was the clear pick of the defensive trio, linking up very well with Luke O’Nien on the right flank.
His new role allows him to focus on defending and playing it simple, as overlapping and creating chances are not his strengths – he was always exposed for being unable to make things happen at wing-back or right-back.
McLaughlin appears increasingly confident and dependable cover – he is Sunderland’s surprise package this season as many expected him to depart in the summer.
With many of Sunderland’s defenders missing with long-term injuries, combined with Sanderson’s inconsistent start to his loan spell, it would appear we will see more of McLaughlin at centre-back.
It shows that players can turn their form around unexpectedly against the odds, and every Sunderland fan will be hoping a similar change of fortunes occurs for McLaughlin’s some-time international teammate, Will Grigg.