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Does Phil Parkinson deserve more praise than he’s getting for Sunderland’s victory at Oxford?

After criticism came his way both last week and when the starting XI was announced on Saturday, does Parky deserve more praise for the way Sunderland won at Oxford?

Sunderland v Carlisle United - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Philip West says...

Yes, he does deserve praise.

Pre-match, I was both amazed and livid that Josh Scowen had been left on the bench, and what appeared to be a less-than-dynamic midfield partnership of Grant Leadbitter and Max Power had been selected. I genuinely couldn’t fathom what Phil Parkinson was thinking, and I that an ugly afternoon was on the cards.

Thankfully, I was wrong, and glad to have been proven so: Leadbitter turned in a performance that was wholehearted, efficient and no-nonsense. He confounded my worries about him not being able to keep up with the pace at this level, and he showed his worth pretty emphatically. Parkinson showed faith in the veteran midfielder, and it paid off for him.

The decision to bench Lynden Gooch and bring him on to run at a tiring Oxford team late in the game, was also very, very smart. Gooch’s form has been indifferent so far, but he looked sharp and extremely eager to contribute, and the goal he scored was a fitting reward.

Parkinson got that call absolutely spot-on.

There is little doubt that Parkinson was under huge pressure going into the game, and his team selection, on the face of it, seemed to be that of a man who knew he was in the last-chance saloon, but whether by luck or by judgement, he got it right. One game, one victory, and the doubts haven’t fully gone away, but he certainly saved himself from a hell of a lot of post-game criticism.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Lynden Gooch celebrates after scoring Sunderland’s second goal at Oxford United
Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

I want to give Parkinson plenty credit for the win, but I’m not convinced it was brought about by anything significant he has done, either in between seasons or since the Bristol draw/during the game.

He selected a “safe” starting eleven which I (like many) wasn’t happy with, and the first half was frankly awful. We came out strong for the first 5-10 minutes of the game but after that it was same old, same old.

I admit I was both pleasantly surprised and pleased that Leadbitter did well, especially after a shaky start. Maybe he does still have legs good enough for this level. His experience is welcome for sure.

I’m not sure what triggered the difference after the break, though the early goal from O’Nien won’t have hurt and it suggests the team upped their game based on a boost of confidence after taking the lead, rather than Parkinson effecting this.

He continues to make changes too late in the game - Power coming off around the hour mark was purely injury forced, but Scowen made a difference that we maybe should have seen sooner. Gooch, the only game changer, was given around fifteen minutes and made a huge difference, but why not try things earlier, and give pre-season stars a go?

In truth, we could have been them to the sword by four or five considering the chance we missed. This could mean O’Brien is looking over his shoulder with Will Grigg waiting in the wings, who I’m sure would have converted at least one of those chances. That said, a result like that away from home is a blessing however it happens.

I just wish I felt it was more a win through design, rather than luck and the team growing into the game based on the confidence from a scrappy but well taken O’Nien goal.

Only time will tell whether this is a Tranmere peak, or the start of a good run we all want to see. Hopefully the latter eh!

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Grant Leadbitter did very well in Sunderland’s victory at Oxford according to Malcolm Dugdale
Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jack Ford says...

I was as frustrated as anyone when I saw Parkinson’s two changes to the line-up had a combined age of 70, and once again youngsters who’d had such a positive pre-season were not given a place in the squad.

However, while it wasn’t the greatest performance to watch, ultimately Parkinson’s side gave the professional, no-drama win that we have to be regularly securing if we want promotion.

Parkinson definitely deserves credit for sticking to his guns and ultimately securing results, but we also can’t let the short-term weigh to heavily when it comes to judging his time as manager.

Just as we shouldn’t write him off for the awful initial form when he took the job, we also shouldn’t allow a single result to rewrite history. Especially a result against an Oxford team that has been severely affected by injuries to key players.

I still think that while he’s somewhat hampered by the attributes of the team, we still look tame and predictable in attack, and can’t rely on freak goals such as O’Nien’s and individual brilliance such as the goal from Gooch. We saw under Ross how these types of goals can suddenly dry up and expose the underlying weakness in the team.

We also need to address the issues with squad selection and composition. We all want our young players to be given a chance and not sold to other clubs for a pittance, but if players like Dan Neil can’t even make the squad after doing as much as they can to earn a place, who can blame them if they looked elsewhere for first team football and how will we ever secure the fees that their talent warrants?

I’m willing to forgive the above for more of the same from Saturday, as long as it gets us out of League One this season, but ultimately the club can’t allow our long-term strategy to be repeated bouts of myopia when it comes to aiming for promotion.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Luke O’Nien scores Sunderland’s opening goal against Oxford United
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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