How do you assess the job done so far at Sunderland by Phil Parkinson?
Phil West says...
To say that Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland tenure has been tumultuous would be something of an understatement. Just as our results and performances have ranged from superb to atrocious under his stewardship, the man himself has swung from hero status to villain with regularity during his time at the SOL. Replacing Jack Ross, who’d navigated the team into a decent position at the start of the season but never truly recovered from the previous season’s double Wembley failure, was a great opportunity for the ex-Bolton manager, so how to judge his time in the Sunderland hot-seat?
On the whole? I think he’s done a job that would rank somewhere around the ‘average’ rating. After a promising start, the standout result of which was a 5-0 walloping of Tranmere at home, results and performances took a nosedive as autumn gave way to winter, encompassing dismal exits in three cup competitions, as well as a wretched league run that plunged us down the table at an alarming rate.
At this stage, the knives were truly out, as the accusations of Parkinson being a cut-price, sub-standard managerial option flew from all angles. It did not look good at this stage, and I advocated his sacking after the dismal Boxing Day draw against Bolton, which seemed to leave our season firmly in the doldrums.
It was obvious that the players, when Parkinson arrived, were not fit enough, so perhaps taking a hit on results and performances in the short-term was inevitable, but it was certainly a shock to witness the downturn during November and into December.
A corner was then turned after Christmas, as we got on a run that catapulted us back into the promotion picture - a change of personnel and tactics paid dividends. Players including Luke O’Nien, Lynden Gooch, and Max Power began to shine, and belief that we could mount a sustained promotion push was restored.
However, before the season was halted, we were certainly on the slide again, as dropped points at home to Gillingham, coupled with two away defeats to Coventry and Bristol Rovers, dropped us out of the automatic promotion picture. This time, Parkinson was facing accusations of being ‘found out’ and getting ‘lucky’ with the excellent run during the New Year.
To be fair to Parkinson, he has carried himself with no small amount of class and dignity throughout his reign so far. He hasn’t resorted to Jack Ross-style outbursts in his press conferences and does seem to have embraced the challenge with gusto. On the other hand, he does have a habit of resorting to the usual, well-worn managerial cliches, and his stubbornness has undoubtedly cost us, as his persistence with Charlie Wyke upfront, instead of the far superior Kyle Lafferty, demonstrates something of a blind spot, much to everyone’s frustration.
On the whole? A mixed bag. 6/10. OK, but could’ve, and should’ve, been better.
Martin Wanless says...
The remit for Jack Ross’s successor was crystal clear: promotion.
Having failed to deliver by the very narrowest of margins last season, Ross’s start of four wins, four draws and one defeat from the first nine league games - with the team sitting in 5th place - was deemed unacceptable. He was shown the door having lost six league games in 55, his successor charged with getting that crucial bit more from the squad.
Over the next 27 games, under the guidance of Phil Parkinson, we’ve managed twelve victories, eight draws and seven defeats, and sit seventh.
When he was appointed, I felt it was an unambitious, League One appointment. No motivation, no excitement. Since his appointment, Parkinson has managed an average of 1.62 points per game, compared to Ross’s 1.8, alienated last season’s player of the season, and failed - as Ross did - to get a tune out of £4 million Will Grigg.
My major criticism of Jack Ross’s spell in charge, however, was that he had failed to establish anything resembling a style of play. There was little in terms of identifiable tactics and a game plan, and we hadn’t taken the opportunity to establish an identity and build a team.
Parkinson has tried to do this; his 3-4-3 system has, on occasion, looked far more impressive than anything Jack Ross mustered in 2019. For the first time since Allardyce, we look as if we have a plan and a shape. And we look significantly fitter.
However, it came at a huge cost as a horrendous spell early in his tenure - only four wins in fourteen - put him under significant pressure, and you have to question the wisdom of trying to implement a completely new style of play (a rudimentary one at that) and a new system mid season. He was incredibly lucky to keep his job after the Boxing Day fixture against Bolton.
A run of nine wins and only one defeat in 12 games after the festive period showed promise; however, before the season was paused we’d hit another poor run of form. His persistence with certain players - Charlie Wyke being a prime example - raises serious question marks, as does his reluctance to rotate his squad. That his January signings failed to make any sort of impact (bar a couple of Kyle Lafferty goals) is also cause for concern going into future transfer windows.
This period of enforced absence does give us a unique perspective, and I just don’t see Parkinson as a long term Sunderland manager. He’s not got the track record to suggest he’ll be a success, nor the self confidence and swagger successful Sunderland managers tend to have. However, I would have reservations about appointing someone else to the role without them having some decent money to spend - and some new owners to work with. We have ended up in League One partly due to constant managerial changes, and there is an argument to give Parkinson’s methods a full season.
Ultimately, however, if the season is abandoned we’ll miss out on promotion, and quite simply Parkinson will have failed in his one and only task, which was to get promotion.
Phil Butler says...
Without wishing to repeat the arguments made in the first couple of answers, it’s impossible to argue that Phil Parkinson has been a success as Sunderland manager and a whole lot easier to say he’s been a disaster.
In reality, he’s been somewhere between the two and when it was bad before Christmas it was appalling whilst when it was good during January it was the best it’s been since the start of Sunderland’s time in League One. However, the results since his appointment just make me think “what was the point?”
Not only what was the point of replacing one manager with a mediocre points-per-game record with another with similarly average one?
Not only what was the point of replacing one manager who struggled to get Sunderland scoring with another who prioritised the defensive side of the game?
But what was the point of appointing a manager renowned for negative, long ball football who doesn’t bring through young players, who doesn’t show creativity in the transfer market and who doesn’t put the fun back into going to the match? And all of this for Sunderland to fall two places down the league table.
That’s why I have to say Phil Parkinson’s time on Wearside has been nothing short of a disaster and a complete waste of time for all concerned. If he had implemented an exciting style of play with mixed results, I may have given him the benefit of the doubt. But, as many said when he was appointed, the problem was that if he didn’t get the club promoted the style of play wouldn’t make up for that. He hasn’t got Sunderland promoted, and the football has been just as prehistoric as was expected.