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Debate: Were Sunderland fans premature in wanting Phil Parkinson to be sacked in December?

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Does Phil Parkinson get enough praise for where he’s got Sunderland to? Or, is it too early to start celebrating his success with 13 games left and no guarantee we’ll finish in the top two? Our panel debate...

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Q: With the benefit of hindsight at time of writing - do you believe that people were right to want Phil Parkinson to leave his job as Sunderland manager at the end of December? Does he get enough praise for where he’s got us to? Or, is it too early to start celebrating his success with 13 games left and no guarantee we’ll finish in the top two?


Phil West says...

As I write, I am 100% of the belief that I was grossly premature in writing off Phil Parkinson as a duff manager who was hired for pennies as a quick fix following the departure of Jack Ross. Like any fan, I was deeply concerned about the direction that the club seemed to be heading during the early weeks of his tenure, and I was forthright, perhaps overly so, in my opinion of his suitability for the job.

However, during our wretched run of form during late October and through November, the signs were all negative. Parkinson looked lost, bereft of ideas, and was resorting to the typical managerial soundbites as he fought to quell what was undoubtedly a rising fan backlash. Most people, myself included, called it as we saw it, and there were no indications at that time that we would find a vein of form that would propel us into the automatic promotion picture. Loss after loss could not be glossed over, despite the fact that he was working with a squad that he hadn’t constructed, and players who were used to playing in a different style.

At the moment, Parkinson is a man oozing confidence, both in his tactical approach and in his players, who in turn, have responded by demonstrating a wonderful team spirit and an impressive level of resilience. When a manager emerges, newly-invigorated, from a storm of criticism, that is always a very positive thing to see, and that is the position Parkinson currently finds himself in, which is credit to his own fighting qualities and refusal to cut and run even when things seemed bleak.

That being said, his brief upon arrival at the SOL was promotion, and in that regard, he still has a lot of work to do. So to that end, I think that we should praise him for what is happening here and now, but reserve full judgement until the final whistle blows in May when we will know whether the goal of automatic promotion has been achieved, or whether it is to be another playoff run. If Parkinson takes Sunderland back to the second tier, then he truly will have completed the turnaround in comprehensive fashion.

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Michael Graham says...

I don’t blame anyone for being critical of Parkinson during those early difficult weeks. It was an absolutely miserable time with miserable results and miserable football. If you weren’t being critical, there was something wrong with you.

I don’t even have a problem with those who are keeping their guard up and refusing to jump to more positive conclusions now either. If supporting Sunderland has taught us anything, it’s to take our optimism with a large side order of caution.

What I do find very difficult to accept is fans who were happy to jump to definitive negative conclusions while on a bad run yet urge patience before drawing similarly definitive conclusions from a good run.

’Jury’s out, there is a long way to go yet’ is a completely fine reasoned position to take when we are winning games, but only if that same careful consideration and patience was urged after bad run, surely? Yes we all know football is fickle and we could hit a bad run any time, but surely that means we also know we can hit a good run at any time too?

So, for me, it’s not really a question of whether Parkinson got too much criticism then, or isn’t getting enough praise now. Every fan has that right to judge because we pay our money and emotionally invest in the club to frankly extreme levels. But I do think that there should be a fair degree of consistency to the reasoning of each individual.

For me, regardless of what happened, Parkinson didn’t deserve to be sacked after fewer than ten league games. Managers need time. Not all managers will succeed if they get it, but they definitely won’t succeed without it. He also shouldn’t be beyond criticism now after a good run. Hopefully, what Parkinson has achieved as of right now is to prove that struggling managers don’t have to be written off at the first sign of fallibility.

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Matthew Crichton says...

Whilst Phil Parkinson has done fantastically well to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around, I do not think the fanbase was wrong to call for his head - and it is far too early to say he has been a success on Wearside.

When Jack Ross was sacked Sunderland were 6th in the table, 8 points away from Ipswich at the top of the table. Now we sit 5th in the table, 3 points from 1st, so whilst Parkinson has closed the gap, we still are not in our target position of the automatic promotion places.

Realistically, Parkinson’s excellent run of form has only recovered from the shocking start both he and the fanbase painfully endured. I have said from day one that I will judge Parkinson on whether he achieves promotion - that is the standard we held to Jack Ross, so the ex-Bolton boss deserves the same.

Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven stated before the season begun that promotion was imperative, they even stretched as far to say that 100 points was the objective. With Sunderland’s wage budget, facilities and playing squad, I fully believe Parkinson has the tools to achieve success at this level.

He was employed to get more out of the squad and to achieve promotion, so why should his awful start defer from those objectives? Should he achieve promotion, both he and Donald deserve praise for their work and the turnaround. However, should we miss out, big questions need to be raised as to how a club of this stature with the squad we possess can fail to be promoted in two attempts.

Every Sunderland fan wants to the team to do well no matter who is in charge. Our protest was necessary at the time and you could argue it was effective as results have improved since. I think we should leave any praise until the end of the season, if the job is done, I am sure every single Parkinson critic will hold their hand up and congratulate him on a magnificent turnaround.

Until that moment, everyone at the club needs to keep their eyes fixed firmly on delivering promotion.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

James Nickels says...

Looking at both the results and the performances, we were all definitely right in our criticisms towards Parkinson in his early days at the club.

Not only did we only win just two games from 14 in all competitions, but the performances and tactics on the pitch were well below par. Our defensive back line (consisting of a back four at the time) was far too deep, with two defensive midfielders isolated in the middle of the pitch as our wingers would push right up - at times making a 4-2-4. This stifled our approach entirely. During this time, Parkinson brought everything “back-to-basics” and worked on overall defensive solidity and individual fitness. Signs of the former were evident, as shown by the three clean sheets around Christmas time.

Parkinson, however, is a seasoned League One manager and understood better than most fans just how tight this league is, as we rapidly progressed from 15th to 6th within 6 weeks.

The focus then shifted once he switched to a 3-4-2-1. With the defence sorted, we stopped playing the ball as long at every opportunity and numerous games in the recent run (Wycombe, Rochdale, Lincoln) have seen us blow teams away and play some of the best football since dropping into League One.

With hindsight, the pattern is clear. But the fact his appointment was unpopular, and that our off the pitch organisation deteriorated more and more with each passing week, led to and understandable over-reaction. Heads were turned over our shoulder to the relegation zone, away from looking towards the playoffs.

The criticism at the time was entirely fair, but calling for a sacking was most likely far too premature and likely due to events occurring off the pitch just as much as they were on it.

Parkinson now deserves the utmost credit for turning the side around, and this defensive organisation and superior fitness levels could be the key to bringing promotion in the long-term. We put in the hard yards and hopefully can benefit from this at the end of the year.

The work is far from done, but we are on the right track and have momentum on our side. Portsmouth seems to have been an anomaly, rather than the norm - just like those performances from October - December were, too.