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It’s raw, it leaves you bitter - but Sunderland’s owners must work out why this has happened

Alex Neil jumping ship leaves an incredibly bad taste - but do the problems he clearly had with the board remain after his departure? If so they need to fix it, now

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The terror alert has been raised to level five with this news.

It didn’t have to be like this.

Pride. Passion. Desire. Emotion. Delight. All the things that sunny day in May bought us.

Thanks to Alex Neil.

Bewilderment. Anger. Sadness. Bitterness. Resentment.

Thanks to Alex Neil.

Or was it really?

The question is why? You don’t leave a marriage because someone else is more attractive. What was it that made him want to hop in his car down the M6 to Stoke?

The initial reaction is the rawest, so here you go: You cannot say that Alex Neil is a man of integrity. A man of principle. No, he is a man who is as loyal as a hungry dog. It is a complete disgrace, an affront to the thousands upon thousands of fans who are emotionally invested in this football club - not to mention financially - that he has left in these circumstances. At this time, a time so critically important to Sunderland’s prospects.

He will have to live with the consequences of his actions. In the course of his time at Sunderland, Neil will have made thousands of decisions. It’s not a stretch to say he probably got 99% of them right, such is the success he achieved.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Well, he’s just made one so catastrophically bad that it will reverberate through his career for years to come.

Six years ago, Neil was in the Premier League. He is now at the bottom of the Championship. He wouldn’t have taken that deal if offered it in 2016. Therefore, has he really made the right choices in his career?

Having said that, something quite clearly has metastasised in the fabric of the relationship between Neil and the ownership which could not be fixed.

It’s not me, it’s you, he might have said.

Of course, the line was he hadn’t been backed in the transfer market. Patently, that is not the case. He has been backed in the transfer market. The squad, while still light, is going in the right direction - and is already competitive in the division.

Unless he’s been told that he will not be getting the players in the positions that he believes need strengthening.

After all, Sunderland has the third highest net spend to date in the window.

So do we blame KLD, Speakman, Sartori, Harvey and co too? Perhaps it takes two to tango.

I’ll get back to you on that one.

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Looking at it dispassionately, Sunderland have just lost the best leader they have had in years. One of the best they have had in decades. To sit here, without a manager wondering where we go next is so dispiriting it almost defies belief.

The big question is: does the issue that existed between Neil and the board die with his departure? Or will it simply be kept in cold storage for the next man to come in and grapple with when things start to get difficult?

A problem has been created which could have catastrophic consequences. Because Neil did so well with Sunderland to this point, we do not know what an out-of-form side with these players looks like. Could relegation be on the cards if the next person through the door is the wrong one?

And if it is recruitment, what are the gaps in the squad that Neil felt were sufficiently wide for him to leave?

What too is this going to mean for our key players? Will Ross Stewart want to sign a new deal under a new manager? What of Ellis Simms, who might not really buy into being at a club that has revealed itself to be highly dysfunctional?

Their next managerial appointment truly is a sliding doors moment for this football club. Get it right and Sunderland could continue their ascent up the leagues. Get it wrong and they could find themselves right back where they started.

Chin up, eh. Tomorrow they could be top of the Championship.

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