At the final whistle after Sunderland’s defeat to Wigan Athletic last Saturday, Lee Johnson must have been wondering what he has got himself in for.
Not for the first time this season – and probably not the last – Sunderland were thwarted easily; this time by a team that sit in the League One drop zone and are likely to be relegated.
How has it come to this?
As the season commenced, Sunderland were sure favourites to finally escape the doom that is the third tier.
As we all now know, Phil Parkinson went with the tried and trusted. Veterans of the game. Players with the valuable ‘know how’ to get us out of this division.
With hindsight, it is now abundantly clear that Parkinson’s purchases were failures of an unfathomable scale.
The collection of men that joined the club in the summer were something akin to what you did see in the over 75s match in that episode of Father Ted.
A complete lack of pace, precision, drive or any inkling of a ruthlessness that is of an utter necessity from our strikers especially. Although it must be pointed out that he may have had his hands tied behind his back financially in the market, this was Phil Parkinson’s biggest mistake in my opinion.
As the weeks rolled on, Sunderland were solid but certainly not spectacular.
The results were acceptable but not remarkable, with the style of play certainly not endearing the manager to the fans.
It is understandable to see why he was not popular. Sunderland had become almost impossible to watch and Phil Parkinson had eradicated any semblance of joy or entertainment (that was already minuscule) spectators would have obtained from watching us.
This is where, however, I felt a little sorry for Parkinson.
While I agree, as previously stated, his signings were poor, I thought he was doing as well as he could with the playing squad that was at his disposal. This current Sunderland team is by far and away the worst I have witnessed in my 26 years supporting this club. They are lacking in almost every single area on the pitch – pace, flair, creativity, energy, backbone... I could go on.
Let’s not get away from this fact. It is a poor, poor side.
A narrative has been built up on this squad currently underperforming.
That they should be higher than their current top 10 position is showing.
That Phil Parkinson was not getting the best out of these players.
To me, we are exactly where we should be based on our current playing pool.
With what is usually the case with players at our club, their reputations or names lead them to being utterly overrated by some fans relative to what they have actually achieved at the club.
We still may be Sunderland AFC, and are a big club – but none of this matters one bit if we do not have the players to get us out of this league.
On current judgement, we are well below what is necessary. This is without adding that we are now spending our third season in the third tier. It does not matter, we are a League One team plain and simple.
This is why we need to be patient.
Give the manager time to grow into the role, find a system that works and find a team that will be consistent on the pitch.
Naturally enough, there will be pressure on Lee Johnson to get us promoted and even more so to get the club out of League One this season.
I think that is foolish. We are nowhere near it.
Johnson said after the game that the squad needs an awful lot of work in January to get them anywhere near being good enough. He is correct.
For this reason, it is likely that more results like the defeat to Wigan will occur in the next few weeks, especially with our current injury problems.
Let’s not panic if it does.