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Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Fan Letters: The debate over Johnson’s future continues

A wide range of fan views on the Sunderland manager in today’s bumper mailbag - a few more shouts in support of Lee Johnson than in other recent editions! Got something to say? Email us:

Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Can we please stop trashing the team at the first sign of trouble? While I’m as disappointed in the results, I’m not disappointed in my team. They are young. They work hard. They sometimes play sublime football and sometimes play sloppy football. But I’m backing them all the way. I always read, “he’s not my first choice manager,” but I never hear the names of any manager who will guarantee us promotion. Klopp? Guardiola? They are taken. Moyes, Coleman, Ross were all successful managers who were unsuccessful at Sunderland. And while we’ve suffered the Rodwells and Roberges, we’ve also run off a few Honeymans.

Vitriol and victory rarely mix. To all those fans who feel a six-game slide is worth replacing the whole side, I have a question: Would this mentality be fine at your place of business?

I wonder how many of our aggrieved fans would respond well in workplaces with a manager who disparages his staff whenever they make a mistake. I wonder how many would feel comfortable working in an atmosphere in which every moment is watched and every action is second-guessed and every mistake is prosecuted to the fullest on every public channel available.

Are we backing this team or are we biding for a sacking? Do we want to win or do we want to vent?

I’m tired of my favorite club plying its trade in the nether reaches of League One while my mates relish the limelight of the Premier League. I’m tired of seeing a noble forced to scrap for bits with a bunch of eager minnows. But I’m not backing away from this team at this moment of doubt. They need belief. They need me. As a supporter, this run of form is a challenge to not only the entire squad but the entire side and its supporters. Are we supporters? Then let’s back these boys to the top of the table. Winning is belief. If we want to stop the rot, we’ve got to stop the doubt. Haway the Lads!

Chad Fasca (Tokyo, Japan)

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for writing in from Japan, Chad. I hear you, and I’m with you in general. I think we’re all very tired of the club playing at this level, and therefore there’s a natural and entirely understandable urge felt by very many supporters to press the reset button in the hope that the next manager will be the one to do what all the others have not. It’s a reaction borne of pain and suffering and decades of accumulated disappointment. But I still believe in the plan, in the philosophy, I can see that there’s potential there in this squad, and I still believe it will get better under Johnson.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve just read through the latest offering of letters all screaming for the manager to be sacked, every single letter published was pro sacking. I can’t believe you have not received one in favour of giving him a chance to get past the January window and see the full season out. Surely our sacking of so many managers with such short tenures and still ending up where we are means something isn’t working when following this route and surely we must have learned from this… so here are my reasons why he should stay.

This club has been in disarray for some considerable time now, yes we have new owners and, yes, they look a lot more promising than the old mob. But with new owners comes change and especially when the new owners are proper business people (I say proper as in not your Del Boy types as before). With respectable owners you know this change is going to be measured monitored and controlled.

Look for instance at how they controlled recruitment this summer, I think by the time the recruitment was concluded come deadline day most people were more than happy with what we had done, I for one certainly was. But then you look at it as the course of the season unfolds. To me, this measured approach although no doubt the right way in the long run was perhaps cobbled together in a bit of a hurry and so has brought its own problems. The owners took control very late on and very close to the season-ending. Therefore the backroom staff was put together even later and very close to the transfer window opening which meant we were already behind most teams and inevitably meant we finished with a late flurry trying to play catch up. So not only were we were late to the party but we also came wanting to play our own games.

We extolled the virtues of waiting for quality youth and value and stubbornly stuck to our guns giving LJ and us many a sleepless night. Now having decided on our process did we then become blinded by the process itself over the needs of the squad and did we end up diving in and get what was available without due care to what the squad needed. I mean for instance did we really need to sign 3 left backs (yes Hume was late) but we did need to spend most of our available money in one area and on players for the future. I’ve no doubt Cirken will make us money but haven’t seen enough of Huggins yet and Hume well, in my opinion, a wasted squad member, he’s made of glass and quite obviously felt his future lay elsewhere anyway.

Would we, therefore, have been better utilising some of that transfer money we laid out on future value players getting some players in that were already the standard we needed to get out of this division? I mean specifically the big strong athletic box-to-box tackling midfielder and the big lump of a centre half capable of clearing everything out of the box. Youth is fine making money from youth is great business sense but before this future value blossoms, you need the core to not only protect them but teach them. We could have maintained 0’9 at fullback (to me, his best position anyway) and Winchester already out of the picture in midfield in at right back (which we must have known was a position he could play, it wasn’t a random drunken call one night). Then we could have spent a chunk of money on said beast of a centre half.

This method would have left spaces open for recruitment in midfield and instead of the easy free transfer option (Evans) spend a few Bob on the big strong athletic box to box big tackling centre midfielder we are crying out for. Evans was always a risk his injury record told us that but we had committed our available funds elsewhere.

It’s great buying for the future but surely you do this when the core of the team is in the position you need it to be to get that elusive promotion and these two positions are key in this division to getting promoted. It’s fine having a young team with promise but you need the key positions filled with quality and experience to not only allow these youngsters to come through but to also protect and teach them as they do.

We recruited late we recruited mainly free and we recruited in an imbalanced way. Does the manager take the blame for this when so much has been made about the recruitment team we have worked hard to put in place? To add insult to injury the players we spent money or are out injured anyway does the manager take the blame for this as well is he now the manager of luck as well. And…

Is it really Johnson’s fault that the two “Marquee” signings haven’t worked out well. Was Evans and Pritchard really what we needed in this division or did we recruit them with one eye as was inferred on championship level players ready for that promotion before we even get there or was it simply they were free and available?

We signed a host of promising young players Huggins Cirken Doyle Hoffman Dajaku Alves some with buy clauses some without. We promoted Neil and Embleton and for a while, Patterson into first-team action is it any wonder we lack consistency with so many inexperienced and young players. This current squad is lightweight and they were always going to be bullied and put under pressure at some stage of the season.

We lack physicality and leadership in key areas, first and foremost it is these areas that should have been addressed before we went looking to make money on recruitment. I’m almost certain as we all sit at home bemoaning things the decision-makers are looking to address this area in January which to me says Johnson was sent out with the wrong tools. He was sent out with a hastily cobbled-together squad a squad built for the future and for making money and not enough thought of what was needed to really develop that future.

Is Johnson to blame or is he really just a captain navigating a young crew through dangerous waters waiting to pick up a couple of experienced hands at the next port, let’s wait for January and find out.

Give the man the chance to put it right. Or the net manager we bring in really will be our last chance.

George Ledington

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for writing in, George. I’m with you on this, overall. I think Lee Johnson should be given the season. We should certainly look to strengthen in January and there are so many games to play, I think it’s worth sticking with the plan rather than twisting on a new manager. I do respect those who think yet another fresh set of hands would get more from what is obviously a talented set of players, but we called for a long-term plan and therefore it would be inconsistent for me to be calling for a change with Johnson only a year into the job.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

When Johnson was first appointed, I read some comments from Bristol City supporters who nicknamed him the tinkerman because he never played the same team twice, and I believe they finished 17th when he was dismissed.

All that apart, the present team has no backbone, some players are scared to put a foot in, the passing from so-called professional footballers beggars belief at times.

To sum up, don’t concede, don’t get beat - we are in desperate need of a hard, physical centre half, and a manager who will receive the full backing of the owners.

Bring back Roy Keane.

Michael Bell

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your letter, Michael. I’m not sure that Roy Keane is even in the market to come back into management, and I strongly doubt whether he’d be the kind of coach who would fit very well into a structure with a Sporting Director above him. I think you’re right that Sunderland are a couple of physically imposing and athletic players short, but this season is not a right off by any means - we’ve got a long way to go, including a League Cup Quarter Final and a transfer window.

Dear Roker Report,

All this talk of travel, etc...

We don’t have a team good enough to fight or to get promoted.

Look at Rotherham - they started down the bottom of the league, and are now top, and will be promoted. Let's face it, our lot is not good enough - period.

Everyone makes excuses for their play - mostly the manager. But, if you play one of the bottom clubs and they have 10 men on the pitch for the whole second half and can’t win, say no more.

Travel has got nothing to do with it.

Look at all those non-league clubs that travel long distances and win away, in the cup or whatever. It is in the players' ticker if they want to win. If you’ve got no guts or fight in you, you can’t put it there - it is in your make-up.

I played semi-pro, and then eventually came out to Australia, then New Zealand - that is a lot of travel, and it did not affect me, and I won championships into my late 30s. I played on Roker beach on Sundays against a lot of Sunderland players from back then - Willie McPheat and other lads from the club, and it did not do them any shame.

Bobby Bland

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your letter, Bobby. In modern professional sports we know that recovery is king. It is undeniable that Sunderland have had a lot of games on the road recently, particularly in our cup run, and in December we’ll have a lot of games at home.

Swings and roundabouts and all that, but it’s been a fact of life since we first joined the league that we are out on a limb up in the north east. We will always travel further on average - it’s just something we need to factor into our planning. As you say Rotherham were at the bottom, now they’re at the top. We were at the top, now we’ve slipped back a bit. But I cannot agree that this squad isn’t good enough - I still believe that this is the strongest we’ve ever been in League 1, but we definitely need to improve in January.

Soccer - FA Cup Sixth Round - Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Roker Park.
Sunderland football fans swarm onto the pitch at Roker Park after Willie McPheat scored their team’s equalising goal.
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Read your article today on Tuesday night’s poor performance, and the positives in the article that were mentioned about the game.

You cannot be serious - there was not one positive from that performance.

After beating Ipswich we should have been full of confidence, but no - another baffling performance and team selection. Gooch at right-back... why? What’s wrong with Alves?

Square pegs in round holes again.

Again, we did not address the lack of defenders at the club. We had Willis out and Xhemajli long term - now it’s biting us in the arse, and feels like last season all over again.

Johnson's criticism of Stewart was bewildering - our best player all season by a mile... it was a cheap shot by Johnson. Against ten men, he subbed Pritchard for a defensive midfield player, and two minutes later they equalized - baffling.

The alarm bells are starting to ring; our performances are nowhere near like they were at the start of the season - why? Well, according to the manager, the players are feeling the pressure after reading social media posts. Sorry, but social media is a part and parcel of the modern game, players get paid good money these days - handle it, or don’t read it.

The Cambridge game is massive for the club, and a good performance is essential. This is four seasons in this league - we have to get out. All we need are eleven players giving 100%, and we will not be far away... is that too much to ask?

Mark Wild

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Nice to hear from you as always, Mark, hope you’re keeping well. The gaffer has identified a drop in Ross Stewart’s form that is backed up by the statistics from Tuesday night. I agree that bringing on Cory Evans was a regressive move and, overall, he’s one player who is yet to impress me this season. That doesn’t make either Stewart or Evans bad players, and I don’t doubt both will be in the squad again on Saturday afternoon.

Sunderland need to improve a lot, Johnson needs to continue to learn and develop his squad, and Cambridge is a game we should be looking to get three points from as well as enhancing our goal difference a little too. But, as they like to say on the social media, “am I allowed to say...” we’re still picking up points and with a string of home fixtures and the transfer window to look forward to, I’m personally trying to remain optimistic amongst the late autumnal gloom.


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