Ahead of the recent victory over Norwich City, I wrote an article in which I expressed a belief that a win against David Wagner’s side could alleviate the pressure that had been growing on Tony Mowbray after three straight losses and some poor performances along the way.
We duly won the game against the Canaries, performing to a far higher standard in the process and everything suddenly felt more upbeat. We’d emerged from the slump, chalked up a solid home win, and could look forward to fixtures against Swansea and Birmingham City.
However, come 5:00pm on Saturday and after drawing a frustrating blank against a well-organised and stubborn Swans team who battled valiantly after a thirtieth minute red card for Charlie Patino, it was as though the victory over Norwich hadn’t actually happened.
Mowbray was once again ‘clueless’, ‘not the right man for us’, and ‘guilty of shocking in-game management’, among other things.
On and on it went. The calls for a younger boss (the ‘Francesco Farioli factor’ at play once again) were there, and his status as Sunderland’s head coach was being questioned vigorously.
In any case, the fact that we clocked up a ridiculous number of shots against the Swans without one going in was hardly Mowbray’s fault, nor was the fact that Nazariy Rusyn slipped at the crucial moment when his first goal in red and white seemed a certainty.
Home goalkeeper Carl Rushworth played extremely well, and had it not been for Anthony Patterson’s penalty save, the game might well have slipped away from us. Ifs and ands, as they say.
There’s no doubt that this will be the pattern for every remaining game under Mowbray’s stewardship, not least because there seems to be a belief that draws against the likes of Swansea are somehow ‘beneath us’, and despite the fact that we currently sit a mere five points off Leeds United in third place.
Wins will often be greeted with lukewarm optimism; draws and defeats will constitute a crisis. Before social media blurred the lines of football discussion, results like Saturday would’ve been shrugged off as simply ‘not being our day’, and we would’ve moved on, but nowadays, it’s often a matter of who shouts loudest and whose views are more doom-laden.
For what it’s worth, I do believe that Mowbray maintains a habit of making a rod for his own back in some cases, not least with his use of substitutions that often results in a bunch of attackers thrown onto the park in the hope of something magical happening, and a loss of shape and structure as a result.
However, that’s only part of the story.
We all know that his often whimsical and borderline cringeworthy interactions with the local press pack, for example, are a far cry from Alex Neil giving journalists a thousand-yard stare, but his public utterances do occasionally leave you scratching your head.
Did Mowbray do himself any favours with his public criticism of Hemir? Not in my opinion. Has this tactic already been used successfully? Yes, without a doubt.
Tough love is often Mowbray’s stock-in-trade and it’s certainly worked with the likes of Pierre Ekwah, but whether it has the same effect on the Portuguese striker, whose confidence is doubtless low, only time will tell.
The demand for a head coach in the Farioli, Roberto Di Zerbi or Enzo Maresca mould might be justified in the longer term. When the time comes, I trust that those making the key decisions will get it right, just as they did with the appointments of Neil and latterly Mowbray.
However, at this stage, with the club well-placed to maintain the pressure on those above them, the idea that the old mutual consent farewell announcement will be being drafted just feels like a bridge too far.
There are thirty one games left. More losses and frustrating results will lie ahead, but we’ll also turn over teams as well, such is the ‘anyone can beat anyone on their day’ nature of this league.
Do you see any signs of these lads not playing for Mowbray?
Players downing tools and ambling through games are an all-too-familiar sight to Sunderland supporters but at this stage, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of that being the case, and Dan Neil’s calm, composed post-match interview on Saturday hinted as much.
Saturday was just one of those days, and I doubt there’ll be a huge inquest taking place as we prepare for the visit of Birmingham.
We’re a talented team and capable of playing excellent football, but we’re also inconsistent, which is a byproduct of a young squad. Mowbray was brought to the club for the purpose of guiding these lads and helping them to develop, and at this moment, that feels like more than enough.
On our day, we’re a match for anyone under the former West Brom and Blackburn boss, and that should be considered very carefully before demanding change in the dugout.