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Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One

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On This Day (20 October 2020): Stuttering Sunderland fail to impress against Crewe

Despite picking up a victory at a deserted Stadium of Light, the Lads were dreadful to watch, and the writing was on the wall for Phil Parkinson

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

In the aftermath of this match, I recall spending my evening debating the pros and cons of retaining the services of Phil Parkinson as Sunderland manager with my Roker Report colleagues.

Granted, we were in fifth place after beating Crewe Alexandra at the Stadium of Light, but the feelings of dissatisfaction about the direction the team was going in was palpable. Fans weren’t permitted to attend the game, but social media was rife with unhappiness about how the boss had set us up.

In truth, we were absolutely dreadful to watch.

At a time when fans had very little to do, even watching their football team was becoming a chore, such was the poor standard of performance.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

It was obvious that Parkinson liked to keep it tight and didn’t want to concede too many chances or goals.

In fairness to him, the team could do that, but the problem was that this was Sunderland AFC playing in League 1, and the fans expected far more than solid performances. Attacking play and goals was what they were seeking and it simply wasn’t going to happen under Parkinson.

After the game, assistant manager Steve Parkin doubled down on Parkinson’s love for defensive-minded performances.

“It’s a long, hard season, and you’re going to have games where you don’t score as many as you’d like. When that happens, you have to manage them to be successful.”

“We firmly believe in keeping clean sheets first and foremost, and we’ve got a group who really buy into that. You can’t win every game comfortably, so sometimes it’s about seeing it through.”

“Sometimes these results are really satisfying, when you keep a clean sheet and see a real intensity from the lads to keep the ball out of the net.”

This was typical of Sunderland’s coaching team around this time. It sounded defeatist and apprehensive, with attacking play very low on their agenda.

The game was another example of a match where Sunderland stuttered against a team significantly weaker than them. In fairness to Crewe, they had a decent start to the season but they were still inferior to us.

Sunderland retained most of the possession throughout the first half, with Lynden Gooch responsible for a lot of our good play - though not many of our chances were clear-cut.

When we did finally score, it came out of nothing as Crewe defender Luke Offord headed Gooch’s cross into his own net in first half stoppage time.

It was a deserved opening goal, but only just, and we struggled to kick on in the second half. Crewe, on the other hand, showed some nice touches without ever really troubling Lee Burge in the home goal.

In truth, the second half was boring, and it was man of the match Gooch who had one of the only real chances when a knock-on put him through, but the Crewe goalkeeper made a great save.

Post-match, there was significant praise from Parkin for Grant Leadbitter, who had returned to the squad, and was looking sharp and ready for the season ahead.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

“We’re delighted with him. He’s brought all his experience and know-how of the games he’s played to the table.

“He tidies the mess up, but does it with quality, and if he can play from that area of the pitch, he does.”

Despite the victory, the end was nigh for Parkinson, who only lasted another eight games before getting the sack, with Lee Johnson replacing him.

It was at this moment that things began to really change for the club.

Sunderland: Burge, McLaughlin, Wright; O’Nien, Gooch (Flanagan 87’), Scowen (Dobson 84’); Leadbitter, Power; Hume, Maguire (O’Brien 74’), Wyke.

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