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Talking Points: Fleetwood 1-1 Sunderland - Is Phil Parkinson’s mentality acceptable?

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Phil Parkinson is not managing like someone under pressure, he seems happy to plod along, moving in and around the playoffs and sees that as acceptable.

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

Sunderland drew 1-1 away at Fleetwood last night, moving Phil Parkinson’s side up to seventh in the League One table,

The Black Cats took the lead in the second half when Tom Flanagan’s long ball was headed in by Charlie Wyke, who scored his fifth league goal of the season.

However, Fleetwood equalised through on-loan defender Callum Connolly following Bailey Wright’s failed clearance, meaning Joey Barton has now managed six matches without losing against Sunderland.

The result leaves Sunderland seven points behind league leaders Hull and without a win in three league games.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland have now failed to beat Fleetwood in six competitive attempts since their relegation to League One in 2018.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Comparing Sunderland to Accrington - is Parkinson’s mentality acceptable?

Just like last week against Doncaster, Parkinson once again came out and suggested that rather than two points dropped in our promotion pursuit, an away point against Fleetwood was a credible result.

A man who was hired with the sole objective of achieving promotion, by a board who claimed Sunderland should strive for 100 points, said travelling to a team who were not in the EFL until 2012 and picking up a draw was acceptable - the standards at this football club are at an all-time low.

Admittedly, Fleetwood possess some excellent players at this level and Joey Barton is doing a great job for his first in management, but if you want to win a league, you do not accept a draw, you play every match to try and win three points.

His latest excuse for Sunderland’s poor form was to blame the newly implemented salary cap, claiming games naturally would be tighter and that League One is more a level playing field as “we have now got the same potential budget as Accrington Stanley.”

This could not be further from the truth - Sunderland possess the best training facilities in the league and a category one academy that the manager purposely chooses not to use.

Also, Sunderland signed four players from the Championship in Aiden O’Brien (Millwall), Danny Graham (Blackburn), Bailey Wright (Bristol City) and Dion Sanderson (Cardiff on loan) - Sunderland currently have 10 players who were signed from the Championship overall.

The club paid a six-figure compensation fee to sign an international defender in Arbenit Xhemajli and also received sizable transfer fees for Bali Mumba, Logan Pye and Joe Hugill - we do not have the same budget as Accrington, Phil.

The salary cap has nothing to do with the manager signing two strikers who have scored a grand total of zero league goals between them, or falling out with the team’s best player - he is simply attempting to mask over his inability to get the best out of his players.

In Sunderland’s last nine matches in all competitions, the club have lost four, drawn three and won JUST two (which came against ten men).

To make matters worse, under Jack Ross Sunderland achieved 1.91 points-per-game, a manager the club deemed not good enough for failing to achieve promotion.

Parkinson has only achieved 1.47 points-per-game, a record which would have seen the club finish 10th in League One last season.

Under his management the club has recorded their worst league position in history, joint-lowest FA Cup knockouts and were knocked out of the EFL Trophy group stage following defeats to Scunthorpe and Leicester under-21s.

Parkinson is not managing like someone under pressure, he seems happy to plod along, moving in and around the playoffs and sees that as acceptable.

Bringing off an offensive midfielder for a defensive midfielder to secure a point in League One screams of mediocrity and a complete lack of ambition, that substitute to me symbolised the mentality of this football club - they accept failure.

Accrington Stanley have won more League One games than Sunderland this season - if Parkinson can look himself in the mirror and say that's acceptable then he simply is not the right man for the job.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland have failed to win their last three League One matches.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Can Sunderland keep clean sheets consistently without Jordan Willis?

We usually talk about about Bailey Wright being the standout performer of Sunderland’s back three, but when Jordan Willis has been fully fit, Sunderland have not conceded a goal from open-play.

I am excluding the games against Portsmouth, Fleetwood in the cup and MK Dons because I think everyone watching those games could see he wasn’t fit and was rushed back, which is proved by the extended time he now faces on the side-lines.

Since his injury issues, Sunderland have been conceding goals for fun and look incredibly vulnerable at the back, failing to keep a clean sheet in their last six games in all competitions.

Wright has now been at fault through poor clearances for both Fleetwood and Doncaster’s equalisers, towards the latter stages he looked tired and perhaps the amount of minutes he has played consistently this season is starting to take its toll on him.

Whilst Conor McLaughlin was solid once again yesterday, Tom Flanagan has also had a shaky month, but the main problem is the likes of Wright and Flanagan cannot be rotated due to the injuries suffered by Willis, Arbenit Zhemajli and Morgan Feeney.

Parkinson has made it clear already he does not trust Dion Sanderson (who is likely to be recalled by Wolves), so it seems he is desperate for Willis to return to full fitness.

With a busy December fixture list inbound, Sunderland really need Willis back if they are going to attempt to recreate their solid defensive form from the beginning of the season.

Sunderland v Bristol Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light
Jordan Willis has been struggling with a knee injury that he sustained during an away win against Swindon.
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Why is Parkinson obsessed with experience over youth?

Returning back to my frustrations concerning the manager, yesterday’s team selection and substitutes once again highlighted Parkinson’s obsession with fielding experience and his reluctance to play young players in League One fixtures.

Instead of rewarding Elliot Embleton or Jack Diamond with a start, Parkinson selected 35-year-old Danny Graham who has done nothing so far to amend a previously horrendous record in front of goal.

Selecting two target men to pump the ball up to made for exhilarating viewing for Sunderland fans, even if Charlie Wyke did manage to head one of our two shots on target into the net.

As a proactive Barton had played his hand by 80 minutes making all five subs, Sunderland had made just one, bringing on Will Grigg.

Once again Chris Maguire was largely anonymous yet a like-for-like in Embleton was not used, and when Fleetwood pushed on a great remedy perhaps could of been adding someone with pace to counter attack, but Diamond was also snubbed.

Instead Parkinson brought on Max Power to secure the midfield and swapped Hume with McFadzean, with the only reason maybe being that he was the oldest other outfield sub?

As I highlighted above, a fantastic method to get around the salary cap is to bring through exciting youth prospects on low wages.

Yet just like Bali Mumba, who now plays Championship football with Norwich, was seen as not good enough, the likes of Embelton, Diamond and Dan Neil continue to be snubbed in domestic games, just waiting for another team who are willing to unleash their talent.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - EFL Trophy
Despite producing a man of the match performance against Fleetwood in the EFL Trophy, Embleton was not used by Parkinson.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Can Remi Matthews challenge Lee Burge?

Similarly to last week where I praised the improved form of Conor McLaughlin, I will try and end this week’s talking points on a high by praising Remi Matthews.

After a shaky set of opening games, including a horrid performance against Carlisle in the EFL Trophy where he made a catalogue of errors, Matthews put in his best Sunderland performance yesterday against Fleetwood.

The 26-year-old made a fantastic save to deny in-form Callum Camps, tipping his long-range effort onto the bar, as well as making several solid saves in the second half.

His performance was a welcomed surprise for Sunderland fans, as many feel the club weakened the goalkeeping department by failing to secure Jon McLaughlin to a new contract.

Although he was brought in to cover Lee Burge, who was been suffering from an ankle problem, it now seems Matthews is ready to push Burge for the number one spot.

This would present a positive dilemma for Parkinson, as competition for places is always a good way to bring the best out of players and push them to improve.

After some of the keepers Sunderland fans have been forced to endure in recent years, it was natural for Wearsiders to fear the worst after Matthews’ shaky opening games.

Hopefully now he can build some confidence and show some of the excellent form that pushed him to be Bolton’s number one in the Championship.