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Breaking: Phil Parkinson sacked as Sunderland manager

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The Sunderland manager departs after failing to establish the team as genuine promotion contenders this season. 

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

Phil Parkinson has been sacked as Sunderland manager today, after a disappointing run that has seen the club win only six of its 13 league games this season, and make early exits from both cup competitions.

He leaves the club sitting eighth in the League One table on 23 points, seven behind leaders Hull City, who’ve played the same amount of games.

A club statement said:

Sunderland AFC has today parted company with manager Phil Parkinson.

The 52-year-old was appointed in October 2019, overseeing a total of 47 matches during his 13 months at the Stadium of Light.

Assistant manager Steve Parkin also departs, and the club would like to place on record its thanks to both Phil and Steve for their efforts during their time at SAFC.

Preparations for Tuesday’s Sky Bet League One fixture against Burton Albion will resume on Monday, with first-team coach Andrew Taylor taking charge of the squad.

The board will now begin the search for a new manager and will make no further comment until this process is completed.

Former Bolton boss Parkinson replaced Jack Ross in October 2019, after a 2-0 defeat to Lincoln City saw the club fall to sixth place in the league.

Ross’s spell in charge hadn’t delivered on the primary goal of achieving promotion, and unrest had grown after a stuttering start to the season, which had seen the team win five, draw four and lose two of its opening 11 games.

It had also been played out to the backdrop of takeover talk, with uncertainty off the pitch creating turmoil behind the scenes, as Ross has subsequently alluded to, and his sacking coincided with news a takeover from the people involved in Dell had fallen through.

After a short search, the out-of-work Parkinson was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year contract ahead of Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth – Parkinson’s success at getting both Colchester and Bolton out of League One cited as a key reason for his appointment.

His job was to get a little more from the players and take the team from a seemingly guaranteed play-off spot into an automatic promotion position.

Wycombe Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Parkinson during his first game as SAFC manager, away to Wycombe in October 2019
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The appointment was not an overly popular one, however, with many supporters having misgivings about a manager who, while achieving promotion from League One on a couple of occasions, had also failed spectacularly at Championship level, and was renown for playing dull, direct football. It didn’t scream ‘long-term appointment’ and seemed a risky throw of the dice from a short-term ownership desperate for promotion.

Upon Parkinson’s appointment, then-chairman, Stewart Donald, said:

Phil has a proven track record when it comes to achieving promotion, and I’m delighted to welcome him to Sunderland.

During a rigorous recruitment process, it gradually became clear that he was the prime candidate to take the club forward. His CV put him on our shortlist. His references from within the game set him apart. I hope that Sunderland fans will all join me in welcoming him to our historic club, as we look forward to an exciting few months.

Parkinson himself said:

It’s now up to me to build on the work of my predecessor and deliver the success the fans are so desperate for. This is a good squad of players, and I relish the challenge of working with them to achieve our goal of promotion from League One.

His regime started two days later against Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers and saw the team go down 1-0 in a turgid affair.

His first home game against Tranmere Rovers, however, hinted at better things to come.

A free-flowing, attack-minded performance saw Sunderland win 5-0 in the team’s biggest win in over a decade.

It was hoped that victory – and performance – would set the foundation for a promotion charge, however, over the coming weeks, we endured a horrendous string of results, winning only one of the next 12 games in all competitions; that victory being a 1-0 home win over a troubled Southend team who’d eventually be relegated.

An FA Cup defeat to Gillingham and EFL Trophy defeats against Leicester Under 21s and Scunthorpe caused concern. At the same time, league form alone saw us pick up only nine points from a possible 27 – a desperate run that culminated in calls for him to be sacked during a dire Boxing Day draw at home to his previous club Bolton.

Parkinson had quickly turned a team that needed fine-tuning into a laborious side devoid of attacking intent, and continually frustrated fans with his post-match comments – for example, stating in the wake of a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham, during which we’d barely mustered a shot, that a draw would have been a very good result.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One
Phil Parkinson pictured during the Boxing Day debacle at home against Bolton in 2019
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

After that Boxing Day draw, however, Parkinson’s team went on a good run of form; a switch to a back three seemed to suit certain players, including Hume and Willis, and consecutive home wins against Lincoln City, and then-leaders Wycombe appeared to indicate a change of fortunes.

This was the start of a good post-Boxing Day run, which saw nine wins in 12 games and lifted the team back up to fourth place in the table, and in striking distance of automatic promotion.

During this run, however, Parkinson steadfastly refused to change the team and continued to pick players who were clearly in need of a rest.

He barely played January signings Lafferty and Semenyo (who’s now starring for Bristol City in the championship).

His rare use of substitutions to proactively affect the game was also cause for concern and this run of form came to a quick end: a poor run of two draws and two defeats in four games before the curtailment of the season left Sunderland outside of the play-offs as the league was decided on points per game – a late Mandron equaliser for Gillingham providing what would be a fatal blow.

Given Parkinson had failed to do the one thing he’d brought in to achieve – namely promotion – he could be considered fortunate to have kept his job; takeover uncertainty combined with the turmoil created by a global pandemic perhaps more responsible for this than on-the-field evidence.

During an uncertain pre-season, Parkinson brought in a number of players to mount a concerted promotion campaign this season. While Bailey Wright, for example, has established himself as an important figure, the likes of Aidan O’Brien and Danny Graham have proved huge disappointments.

Parkinson, of course, banished Aiden McGeady from the club shortly after his arrival – a move which left more questions than answers – and it has been the proverbial elephant in the room for the manager as his side has failed to demonstrate the attacking intent needed to mount a promotion challenge.

Sunderland v Gillingham - FA Cup
Irish international Aiden McGeady was frozen out of Sunderland’s first team squad by Phil Parkinson
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One of the reasons Parkinson gave for McGeady’s continued non-involvement was that it created an opportunity for some of the younger players in the squad; however, the likes of Dan Neil and Jack Diamond – who both impressed during pre-season – haven’t been given a chance; likewise, Eliot Embleton, who surely should have replaced Lyndon Gooch against Fleetwood Town.

Ultimately, Parkinson’s downfall has been his team’s style of play – attritional at best – a severe lack of attacking intent, an unwillingness to make use of a group of talented youngsters, and an inability to change things during games.

His overall record reads: P48 W19 D15 L14 F66 A44, while his League One record is: P38 W17 D 12 L9 F49 A29. Not terrible, but combined with the on-field evidence, suggests he’s falling very short of mounting a promotion challenge.

Whether the news of Parkinson’s departure is a prelude to the takeover we’ve been led to believe is imminent, is unknown at this stage. However it seems unlikely a permanent appointment will be made until the ownership issue is resolved.

Between now and then, the only thing that matters is for the team to pick up as many points as possible – starting on Tuesday night against Burton Albion.