I thought I’d write this after a victory. Maybe it will give me a modicum of protection against the inevitable abuse which is coming my way.
BRinG iT oN, KeYbOaRd WarRiOrs.
Look, Phil Parkinson has made my eyes bleed on numerous occasions over the last year. He’s taken football to places I didn’t think were even possible. If an alien came to planet earth and it was up to you to explain to them what football was, you wouldn’t exactly show them a tape of the Bristol Rovers away game, would you? Meanwhile, Bolton at home on Boxing Day was so mind-bendingly awful, I would rather have come downstairs on Christmas morning to find the living room window smashed in, the presents gone from under the tree and a massive dump on the mantelpiece.
There is a ‘but’ coming here, though.
Everything has a context; and if you frame the job that faced him when he arrived, there is an argument to say that we as a fan base have underestimated Parky and his abilities. For now he’s doing alright.
Let’s take a look at the evidence:
Firstly, he is dealing with an owner and ex-chairman who doesn’t know if he’s coming or going. Donald’s inability to sell the club, unclear intentions, motivation and wishes will feel incredibly destabilising, and yet he has continued on, unflustered. It would be interesting to know what Donald has communicated to Parkinson about the progress in selling up - whatever he has or hasn’t been told it will not have helped.
Then there’s recruitment. Transfers have been a thorny issue for some time now. I’m not sure it should actually be called a “policy” of Coton et al unless the plan really was to hoard central midfielders. There was a lot to unpick for Parky; when he arrived the squad was very much a doer-upper yet he’s started to put his mark on the team - Wright, O’Brien, Xhemajli, Scowen being solid buys.
Yes, a chronic lack of pace remains, but at the same time this side will not concede many. Two in nine at one point last season and only one so far this - and that was down to a Lee Burge contribution you might politely describe as unfortunate. He has arguably set this team up nicely to concede under 35 goals this term; now the naysayers can bleat all they like but that would be a huge foundation for success.
Which moves us nicely into the next point - style of play. It won’t win any awards, and is at times about as subtle as a dumbbell to the back of the head however it is measured, no-frills and quietly effective. We shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of having a distinct style of play; a sort of League One Allardyce, with slightly fewer bells and whistles. Hands up who thought Leadbitter was the right choice to start on Saturday? No one? Didn’t think so. But I’ll admit it, I was wrong, and it was the right decision.
We as fans haven’t exactly been that enthusiastic, and it’s easy to see why; years of misery, a double relegation and Wembley defeats has resulted in an all-encompassing melancholy descending over Wearside. When he arrived we had a team which had gone backwards, and contained gaping holes. No one wanted him as manager - I certainly didn’t - in fact his appointment made many of us hop up and down even more angrily, screaming “Ainsworth!” “Supakev!” or “Nigel Pearson!” to anyone who would listen.
It probably wouldn’t be inaccurate to say there has never been a club with a set of fans more desperate to get out of the purgatory that is League One, so this is quite a responsibility on Parky’s shoulders, but the way he has managed it - particularly since the season was curtailed - has been quite impressive. It feels like as a club we have some breathing space, and while Donald is yet to sell, disquiet among the support has died down, and the team appears to be developing.
Yes, I know people would probably rather I banged the drum passionately about reform, progress and positive change; plotting the route back to the Premier League with a progressive manager who will bring through talent that can grow with the club through the divisions. This, however, isn’t the reality and examples of those teams are few and far between. We have to dispassionately assess what and where we are as a football club - as a set of fans we’re unfortunate to have experienced what we have over the last few seasons, but conversely incredibly lucky to still have SAFC given what might have been. Having someone who is as evenhanded as they come is one way out of this.
Parkiola he will never be, but it feels like he is steadying the ship - unlike, say, David “The Ferryman” Moyes, transporting his undead football clubs over the river Styx. We at Sunderland know what a lame duck manager looks like and at the moment Parkinson is quacking and running around, showing no sign of being turned into crispy pancakes.
And if you don’t like what I’ve got to say? Well, give me all the abuse you want - I just hope your stream breaks on Saturday afternoon.