As Sunderland slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield Town in an icy Stadium of Light, a little more of my enthusiasm for this season ebbed away. It had a similar pattern to almost all of our defeats this season, in that it was once again made glaringly obvious that Tony Mowbray doesn’t have a Plan B for when things go wrong.
Back to back defeats have been a wake-up call, and lacklustre displays are being punished by teams who aren’t better in quality, but who have more fight about them. The bleak 2-1 loss was dire, and I couldn’t help but wonder just how great the benefit of hindsight is.
Rewind six months to Kenilworth Road and a 2-0 defeat which saw our play-off dream ended. The post-match talk was that Mowbray was about to be shown the exit door, with an exciting European name waiting in the wings to take us on the next step of our project.
When news of this was leaked, the fanbase went into uproar, and at the time perhaps rightly so.
There was a good argument for keeping Mowbray at the club given how well he’d done in just under a season. Getting rid of him after a sixth placed finish in our first year back in the Championship would have made the ownership very unpopular, but looking back at the way this season is panning out, I can’t help but think ‘what if’ they’d bitten the bullet and made the change?
Francesco Farioli was the man tipped to be the next Sunderland Head Coach in the summer. The 34-year-old would have been an appointment very different to any we’ve made in the past, but his coaching seemed a good fit for our young, potential-stacked squad.
It was, however, a move we did not make and shortly after news came that Mowbray’s contract had been extended a further year as a result of our play-off spot finish last season.
Since the speculation was put to bed, Farioli has taken over at French side Nice and has them absolutely flying in Ligue 1. They sit in second place, one point behind PSG and are unbeaten from 13 matches this season. Of course, there’s no guarantee we would have had similar success, but knowing that a manager we could have approached is now doing very well at a time when we seem to be stagnating is frustrating to see.
The thoughts of ‘here’s what you could have had’ are only so strong due to our recent faltering form. This blatantly obvious inability to change things up when our initial game plan isn’t working has already cost us a lot of points this season, and it will continue to do so if things don’t change.
The rumours of Farioli seem like a bit of a fever dream, and the speculation felt like it was over before it had even really begun. But the longer we continue to struggle to break teams down and figure out how to defeat opposition sides, the more annoying it will likely become that the ownership didn’t just bite the bullet, brace themselves for supporter onslaught, and move Mowbray on.
That all being said, this is by no means a piece designed to persecute Mogga.
What he’s done for us in little over a year was far more than the upper management would have expected of him. Tasked with steadying a ship left rocking by the sudden departure of Alex Neil, Mogga went above and beyond. As we creep towards the halfway point in the current season, though, I can’t help but start to feel he’s taken us as far as he can.