I think the vast majority – if not every – Sunderland supporter will agree that any long-term change at the club will only come with new ownership.
We need new owners who are committed to a long-term plan, a vision; new owners who are determined to develop the club from the bottom up. We need new owners who’ll put the academy at the heart and soul of everything we do.
Quite simply, we need new owners. And, if press reports are to be believed, we’re pretty close to getting them.
The fact we’re in a ‘period of exclusivity’ with an interested party, however, should not be used to deflect attention from what’s going on, on the pitch.
While the two things aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re not co-dependent either. If we were riding high at the top of the league, no one would be attributing that to brilliant ownership.
Regardless of what’s going on off the field, we NEED to get promoted this season. We have to make every effort, every decision, every last bit of energy we have to go up.
At present, we’re meandering aimlessly on the field.
We’re accepting defeats at home to Mansfield.
Defeats to MK Dons are been written off as ‘one of those things’.
We’re being told a draw away at Rochdale is a good point.
Throwing away a win at Doncaster is okay because Doncaster have beaten Lincoln City. Now, I’ve got nothing against the Imps, but...
Regardless of what’s going on off the field, this cannot be allowed to become acceptable.
Yes, we’re a League One team. We’re not a League One club. Not morally. Not in the fabric of our core. Not in the minds of our supporters, and the generations of friends and family who’ve stood at Roker Park and sat at the Stadium of Light.
Only five other clubs have won the top-flight title more times than Sunderland AFC.
Chelsea and Manchester City have won it the same amount of times that we have.
We’re a big, big club. A giant of English football – albeit not so much sleeping as comatose at present.
But still: we simply cannot let the off-field distractions be used as an excuse for meekly accepting all-time lows on the field.
Do we accept that our club is a League One outfit now? That the third tier is where we belong? Or do we hope, strive, call and fight tooth and nail for better, for what this club deserves?
The Parkinson effect
With all due respect to Phil Parkinson, he should never have been given the job in the first place. The vast majority of Sunderland fans knew he wasn’t the right appointment. And, although we knew that, we’ve all given him a chance.
His record at Sunderland reads: P47 W19 D14 L14 F65 A43
For comparison, his predecessor’s record was P75 W38 D27 L10 F124 A73
Parkinson’s already managed four more defeats in 28 fewer games than Jack Ross had.
To even equal Ross’s record, he would have to win more than 23 of the next 28 games.
Now, we can argue mitigating factors till the cows come home. Jack Ross had to build a team from scratch. Parkinson’s had to deal with COVID-19, the salary cap and takeover talk. Jack Ross had Josh Maja. Parkinson had Charlie Wyke.
There’s always going to be things going on, issues and situation’s a manager’s got to deal with. But, simply, Parkinson at Sunderland hasn’t worked. And it wasn’t ever likely to work.
I don’t blame Parky for taking the job, however he should never have been in consideration in the first place.
He’s a bang average League One manager with a reputation for dull, pragmatic football and not playing youngsters. His track record for getting out of the division is OK – not outstanding. He’s never done anything in the championship, so wasn’t a long-term appointment. He was there to get us out of League One last season – and he didn’t.
We know what a Sunderland manager looks like, acts like, sounds like. Reid, Smith, Allardyce, McCarthy, Keane. Someone who grabs the club by the scruff of the neck. Someone whose chest puffs out with pride at the thought of managing the club. Someone who raises every player up to their standards. Someone who doesn’t bullshit the fans with ‘we played very well’ when we patently didn’t.
Someone who is irate at conceding late at Sheffield Wednesday despite winning 4-2 and playing brilliantly for 80 minutes.
When Keane did that interview after that game in January 2007, it was no act. He wasn’t playing up to the cameras. He wasn’t ‘just being Roy’.
He was furious because the team had switched off. He was apoplectic because their performance fell below the standards he’d set. He was irate because he knew that winners don’t do that.
He knew that, while it hadn’t cost us points on that particular afternoon, it would do in the future if it was allowed to continue.
Compare that attitude with what we’ve witnessed this season.
Keane’s outburst at Hillsborough was all about fine margins. He knew if we switched off like that again we’d drop a point. Or three. And it could prove costly.
That season, we went up by four points.
If we’d drew two games that we won, we wouldn’t have gone up.
After that Wednesday game, we played 16 more times that season – drawing only three times and losing once.
That’s why Saturday’s draw with Doncaster is so hugely problematic for us this season.
We played well for the first 45 minutes. In fact, we actually played some of our best football of the season.
We have a good squad of players, and to be fair I think they’re all still playing for Parkinson.
The second half was poor – nowhere more so than on the sidelines.
It was evident changes were needed to protect the lead we had, if not extend it. And, with the newly-introduced five subs available, and a very strong bench, the fact it was left until the 82nd minute to make one change is bordering on the criminal.
And the predictable concession of that late Doncaster equaliser brought to a head everything we’ve seen this season from Parkinson.
He’s inflexible with his tactics.
He deploys a pragmatic, dull playing style.
We don’t get many shots on target.
He steadfastly refuses to use the young players.
He doesn’t use his subs to positively affect the game.
He thinks a League One away draw is a good result.
What happens next?
Ultimately, Parkinson will lose his job. Most football managers do. The question is when.
We could wait until new owners come in and, in all reality, I think a permanent appointment before that would be unwise.
However, between now and then, we need to collect as many points as we can – because, as we’ve seen before those points matter.
Parkinson was brought in on the premise that he would give us that little bit extra. Those fine margins. That extra bit of League One know how.
He’s simply not done it.
Over the past eight games we’ve won two. We’ve scored three goals in the past four games. Two deflections and a worldie.
We’ve not beaten a team who have 11 men on the field for nine games.
When on earth did this become remotely acceptable?
We’re currently sitting eight in League One, two places below where we were when Jack Ross was given the bullet just over a year ago.
Just because we have uncertainty off the pitch, it doesn’t mean we just accept mediocrity on it.
This team is good enough to go up. We’ve got some good players. Lacking a goalscorer? Absolutely. However, there’s plenty there to score goals for us.
The time to act is now. Roll the dice. Get someone in on a short-term basis – a caretaker manager – to give the team a lift before a takeover happens.
Last season we missed out on the playoffs by a couple of points. A couple of points we would have had if we hadn’t conceded a late equaliser to Gillingham.
Those two points dropped on Saturday, those two dropped at Rochdale, those defeats at home to Portsmouth and MK Dons could all be critical at the end of the season.
So, the question facing Jim Rodwell, David Jones, Tom Sloanes and whoever else has responsibility for the club’s best interests on a day-to-day basis, is this:
Is Phil Parkinson the best person to get the most points available over the next few weeks?
In my view, other people would get us more. Not many would gain fewer.
Ultimately, a failure to act now could be the thing that means a fourth successive season in League One – takeover or not.
Of course, changing the manager will only give a short term hit, and until things fundamentally change at the club we’re going to go round in circles.
There’ll be some of you reading this and thinking, “Brilliant, sack another manager because that’s worked in the past, hasn’t it?” And I completely agree with people who say that changing the manager every year has contributed to where we are today.
However, because of the takeover on the horizon, this time is different.
Over the next few weeks, it’s more vital than ever before that we get as many points on the board as we can.
Get the club into the best possible position for the new owners, and whoever’s appointed permanently after that – and then stick with him for the next three, four, five seasons.
If we don’t take decisive action now, this season will be a write off by the time any takeover happens – and the new regime, our new era, will already be behind the eight ball.