There have been times when I’ve agreed with some of Phil Parkinson’s decisions this season.
An affable and honest man, he happily spoke to my wife and I after a talk-in at the Stadium of Light back in March. We spoke about golf and a mutual love of the Northumberland coastline – Parkinson said he had family connections to the North East – before we wished him and his team all the best for the season and beyond.
Just days later, the season was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, and regardless of our shortcomings on the pitch, we were unlucky not to be given the chance to make a push for a play-off place.
Despite an underwhelming build-up to the current campaign, Parkinson had us fans believing with a promising start.
Even after the current frustrating run of results, I backed his decision to stick with Leadbitter and Scowen in midfield, at the expense of the ineffective Power and Dobson.
I felt that if only our strikers could start converting chances and killing games off, it would take the pressure off our defence to hold onto a one goal lead.
I’ve never been a fan of three at the back, but we had a solid team of experienced pros playing a system which had become the norm. And for me, we were creating enough chances.
But herein lay the problem with Parkinson. Apart from a convincing 5-0 win over Tranmere in his first home game in charge, our latest incumbent to the manager’s seat seemed to have an inherent fear of attacking.
In our recent games at Doncaster and Fleetwood, positive first half performances were almost inevitably followed up with edgy, nervous second half performances where we’d sit back on our slender lead.
This, coupled with Parky’s reluctance to use subs until the dying embers of a game, was a recipe for disaster, as our tiring legs sat deeper and deeper. Fleetwood used all five permitted subs, and the energy boost it gave them was evident.
The attitude to cup competitions – especially the FA Cup given our history in a competition which was once the show-piece of English football – has been unforgivable this season.
I don’t buy the cliché about promotion being our priority. Making several changes and bowing out with a whimper in the very first round is simply not acceptable for a club of our size.
Indeed, we saw some of the younger players given a run-out, but that brings me onto another area where Phil failed to get things right.
The likes of Jack Diamond, Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton will find it difficult to perform when thrown in together as part of an under-strength side. They need to be gradually integrated into the first team with the occasional start, or a good half hour from the bench.
In the case of Embleton, he’s been on the fringes for five seasons now. While he’s had injury problems, he’s shown enough glimpses of his talent to be handed a chance.
I’m all for giving a manager time, and if I could see signs that Parkinson was making progress I’d have been patient. After all, we’ve sacked so many managers and are crying out for some sort of stability and evolution.
But negative tactics and a lack of faith in academy players is no way to take a club forward – and is certainly no way to move a club of Sunderland’s stature back to where it belongs.
Parkinson had little or no budget in the summer, but his signings have largely underwhelmed, and he struggled to find a winning formula.
Against Fleetwood on Friday we were simply not good enough. We’ve never dominated teams in League One like a promotion side should, and that has shown no signs of changing.
An affable man, but Phil Parkinson was never the right man for Sunderland. Should we be looking at someone with ’League One experience’ to take us forward, or should we be searching for a manager, or indeed a footballing structure more befitting of a club which should be among the elite?
Perhaps a takeover will lead to a show of ambition the club has lacked for a decade. Eddie Howe anyone? We could be a great long-term project for the right manager who sees our vast potential.