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Before Sunderland played West Brom just over a week ago, all the talk was about the managerial hot seat at the club.
Tony Mowbray had been controversially sacked on the Monday, and first-team coach, Mike Dodds, had been put in temporary charge of the team while a new head coach was chosen.
In his first press conference temporarily in the hot seat, much of the focus was on Dodds’ previous history in charge of the team.
Back in February 2022, when Lee Johnson left the club, Dodds and Michael Proctor were put in joint charge of the team before Alex Neil was given the full-time vacancy.
Defeats to Doncaster Rovers and Cheltenham Town, who were both around League One’s relegation zone at the time, marked the lowest moments of that season and perhaps our entire League One experience.
Both Dodds and Proctor were equally blamed by supporters afterwards, which perhaps slightly tarnished their reputations as solid coaches in the game.
So, when Dodds stepped up again after Mowbray’s departure, some eyes were on him to see how he would respond to this latest stage in his management career.
In truth, over the last two weeks, Dodds has earned the respect of fans and has more than proven himself to be competent at this level of management.
There’s no doubt, though, that his expertise and trust from those above lie in his role as first-team coach and the development that he provides to the young players. However, over the last two weeks, he has almost completely erased those damaging League One memories.
Yes, this time, the team is more well-drilled and focused on how they want to play and the roles they are being asked to play in. But the responsibility of being head coach (even temporarily) is significant, and Dodds has more than coped with it in a superb manner.
Even after a thrilling 2-1 win over West Brom, Dodds’ message was clear: this was not “Mike Dodds vs West Brom”, but “Sunderland vs West Brom”. When Dodds gets the chance to reflect on this temporary spell in charge, it’ll be with a sense of relief and admiration for what he’s achieved during this time.
Probably, the highlight of the two weeks will have been last Tuesday night, where he orchestrated a superb defensive and tactical performance against Leeds to end their impressive unbeaten streak.
It differed from what fans have started to accept as the norm for this group of players. But to achieve that result in the short time between the win against West Brom and kickoff is impressive.
Of course, his spell in charge of the team looks to have ended on a slight negative with Saturday’s defeat to Bristol City, where our recurring issue in front of goal surfaced again. But all in all, it’s been an interim period in stark contrast to that of nearly two years ago.
He has shown his tactical acumen with adjustments to Mowbray’s version of Sunderland in his first match in charge, leading us to the three points with a more upbeat and intense second half. But his second win was all about him this time.
And so, as Michael Beale seems destined to join the club, Dodds will remain part of the coaching staff and will likely resume his role as first-team coach. But he can do so knowing that he has exorcised the demons of Doncaster and Cheltenham.