A new hope, or absolutely hopeless?
An argument can be made for either under Lee Johnson's and the somewhat rocky start to his tenure. Defeat most recently came at the hands of Plymouth, a side without a win away from home this season. At times, we are a gift that keeps on giving.
Those with concerns this far are justified in their caution, with hands still burning from a series of dour and misguided appointments stretching all the way back to the departure of Sam Allardyce. This isn’t a new sensation for Sunderland fans, it’s also one that my stick around for some time longer too - the damage done by Phil Parkinson still being particularly felt both on the pitch and off.
Before the game kicked off on Tuesday, the furore had already begun. The rapidly deteriorating condition of the pitch acting both as an unfortunate precursor to events as well as becoming the latest in a series of images symbolising Sunderland’s now steady decline. Before kick-off, it was somewhat unfathomable that the condition of the playing surface would become the least of our worries.
A gutless display - perhaps predictably - followed and so again did the argument of how low this club can sink. Of course, Johnson is not absolved of blame but in the same breath, it would be tremendously unfair to level it entirely at his door. The severity of the situation and gravity of the task before him is clearly not lost either, with his usual post-match comments stripped largely of his ’management’ speak and instead filled his communications with thinly veiled criticism of his ultimately sub-standard playing staff.
Of course, the task before Johnson, as well as Speakman and any incoming staff is to reshape this club from the hopeless mess it feels. Whilst the pitch may be symbolic of decline, the squad itself symbolises a chronic mismanagement over an equally sustained period. With it being easier to name who isn’t out of contract this summer, Johnson’s task to reform this side will be as large as he’s ever likely to have faced. Ridding the scars of Parkinson’s tenure will be an ongoing process rather than a quick fix.
The squad itself does have some green shoots in amongst itself, even in the darker corners. We can only hope these flowers bloom in the dark room that is Sunderland.
Injuries to O’Nien and Hume have stood to highlight not only how thin the squad is spread in certain areas but also highlighted their absolute importance to making Sunderland a functioning unit. Johnson’s inclusion of youth players too has given the optimists amongst us cause for (albeit dampened) celebration, with Jack Diamond quickly becoming not only a regular starter but a rare shining light.
In this squad, players like Diamond are a rose amongst thorns. The sporadic inclusion of Dan Neil has also offered a beacon of light when subject to a series of midfielders capable of only one pace collectively and the appearances of Younger on the bench, though maybe through necessity, suggest his first-team opportunities lay not too far in the distance.
Ultimately, it feels like the air of doom and gloom may not vacate Wearside for some time and as long as Johnson is left to work with the remnants of his predecessor’s side - a team we shouldn’t forget we’re in a perpetual state of regression, I wouldn’t be expecting a quick turn around. For now, Johnson must play the cards he has been dealt, the quality or therein lack of was clear before he signed on the dotted line. That said, as a seemingly optimistic character, I doubt even he anticipated how poor some individuals are and have been.
For now then, them gloom remains and maybe the enduring images of this last week and the weeks since Parkinson left have served to alert fans to the size of the project lay before them.
With time withering away on our prospective takeover, as it seemingly does these days, it seems like we have an age to consider if we are without hope, stuck in this perpetual misery, or whether hope really does spring eternal.