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Cheltenham Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Is time running out for Kristjaan Speakman?

In just ten days, Speakman’s managed to royally cock up any good work he’d done in the previous 12 months.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Whether you agreed with the decision to sack Lee Johnson or not, the week and a half that has followed has been an unmitigated disaster.

From not having a replacement for Johnson lined up and leaving us threadbare in defence, to appointing his mate who has no first-team pro football experience to step in as caretaker manager and managing to extinguish the optimism that briefly followed Defoe through the door, Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has managed to royally mess the whole thing up.

Not only that, publicly running a recruitment drive that seems more akin to a high-street hardware store rather than a football club (you’ll be pleased to know you’ve passed the telephone interview, and we’d like to invite you in for a face-to-face) while the possibility of promotion – never mind automatic – fades quickly away, has reflected poorly on the club and will probably see us appoint some crap, run of the mill, merry-go-round manager like McCann or Neil, or whoever did a decent animated graphic in their Powerpoint presentation.

As Roy Keane would say, ‘stick it up yer bollocks’.

Speakman – and KLD – sold us a long-term plan, but when a bit of pressure has been on it’s crumbled – the plan has gone out of the window. If Lee Johnson’s performance was judged poor enough to warrant the sack, then Speakman must be fearing the next phone call from KLD.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference
Serious questions need asked about Speakman’s suitability for this role judging by his recent decisions
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

When Johnson was given the boot, it was surely because Speakman and the board believed we had a better chance of automatic promotion without him than with him.

Well, that just looks ridiculous now, doesn’t it?

I didn’t agree with the decision to sack Johnson but could understand those who thought it was the right call. After all, the 6-0 at Bolton was horrendous, and the performance was simply unacceptable.

But to not have even a temporary a manager lined up is a dereliction of duty – particularly in this model where we are told they have a list of potential replacements. To appoint Mike Dodds, who looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else than on the touchline, borders on gross negligence.

I suspect they arrogantly thought we’d beat Doncaster and Cheltenham regardless, and that would buy some time to appoint a new head coach. Well, they misread that completely, didn’t they?

Three defeats in a row – against teams who are in the lower reaches of the division – is scandalous. Ten goals conceded, two scored – one from open play, and that was a scruffy thing at that – is absolutely appalling, and suggests there’s something seriously wrong behind the scenes at the club.

Cheltenham Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

To compound it all, Speakman weakened the squad last week, too.

Tom Flanagan wasn’t the best defender in the world, and he was unlikely to get a new contract at the end of the season, but he had been probably our best defender in the first half of the campaign. To get rid of him with no replacements – when we are struggling to keep clean sheets – again is a massive error of judgment.

Regardless of whether it was best for Flanagan’s long-term job security, or indeed it was best for Ollie Younger’s career to let him join Doncaster, he should have put SAFC first and kept the two of them.

In hindsight, the decision to play through Covid to ‘protect the integrity of the competition’ looks downright ludicrous.

We simply cannot run the football club in a way that’s detrimental to the results of the first-team.

Speakman may have set up a good scouting network. He may have put much-needed systems and processes in place. He may be doing all manner of things behind the scenes, but like it or not, the only thing that really matters at SAFC is the results the first team get.

The only thing that matters is Sunderland get promoted this season.

And Speakman’s decisions, his actions, over the past week and a half have made that look like mission impossible.

While he had a good reputation at Birmingham at youth level, he’s never had a role like this, and that inexperience is evident now.

If he’s lucky, he’ll have one more big decision to make over the next day or two – and if he gets that wrong he’ll surely be in a very precarious position.

Sunderland AFC cannot be an experiment or a training ground for people in key roles such as this. And, while the structure behind the scenes is welcome and needed, it’s only something that anyone who had a half-decent knowledge of what a football club needs would do. This isn’t unique to Speakman. It’s common sense. Yes, we’ve brought in some decent players, but again this should be the expectation, not cause for back-slapping.

Of course, the players have to accept responsibility in this too – they’ve looked ‘off’ since Bolton and they should be asking serious questions of themselves too at this juncture – but ultimately, as the Sporting Director, this is Kristjaan Speakman’s responsibility. In the immediate aftermath of an awful defeat at Cheltenham, it’s difficult to imagine him turning this around.

Unless we somehow get automatic promotion from here (which regardless will be due to the failure of others), his reign as Sporting Director could well be forever defined by the disaster of these past ten days.


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