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With hindsight, it was inevitable. Mowbray’s demeanour in press conferences over the past month or so suggested things weren’t great behind the scenes, and his post-match comments after the Millwall game probably cemented his future.
We had about 74% possession and and 27 shots on Wednesday [against Huddersfield], and scored one goal from a set play. It was similar at Plymouth. We don’t look like scoring - I think it’s because we have inexperienced strikers who aren’t really ready at this moment to play for our team, but they have to play and we are playing them.
We are trying to develop them and get them up to speed to be able to be a striker in the Championship.
The club wants to develop young players and for them to be given an opportunity. That’s what I do, I give them a chance.
My gut tells me that we need to change, because I want to win. That’s the truth, I’m trying to develop young players to create value in them, give them good careers. Sometimes they’re not quite ready but that’s OK, they’ll get game time, they’ll get on the pitch to experience the Championship. I signed up for that, I bought into it. Here I am doing it, picking them, playing them.
I’m comfortable with it but there you are at 55 minutes... and I want to win. We still aren’t having shots, so I go with players I think I can turn it around. As a club, we want to be bold, and the young players have to be on the pitch to show they can do it; that’s what we’re doing.
The underlying theme of the comments won’t have been overlooked by Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis Dreyfus, and obviously they’re a lot closer to the day-to-day than anyone. They’ll have been getting a sense of the mood around the place, and have felt the need to make a change.
On the field, however, is where truly matters. While we had some ups and downs last season, Mowbray did an excellent job. If you cast your mind back to when he was appointed in place of Alex Neil, the key target was stabilisation – which he achieved, despite the likes of Stewart, Simms and Ballard for large chunks of the season.
He let the shackles off players like Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts, getting top levels of performance out of them on a regular basis. Along with the mercurial Amad – for whose development Mowbray deserves a lot of credit – they were talismanic in a season in which we overachieved. The fact that the points total that saw us reach the playoffs was significantly lower than what is usually required was overlooked by many, and probably raised expectations a little higher than Mowbray would have liked.
Rumours immediately started flying about the Italian Francesco Farioli – no smoke without fire and all of that. There was genuine interest and the leak seemed to be one designed to test the waters of public opinion. In the hours after the playoff defeat, the general sentiment was it would be crazy to change head coach.
This season, after a slow start, we hit our straps a bit, and the 6-0 win over Southampton will go down as being Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland at our very, very best. Quick, insightful, creative and fearless, we dominated a newly relegated team and that six could have been 10.
Form, however, dipped, and his failure to get a song out of any of the four strikers he’s got played a role in his sacking. A tactical inflexibility meant we were never able to change stride mid game or react to the opposition, while a predictable flurry of subs often meant confusion rather than anything else.
His treatment of Hemir and Bennette, among others, was poor – publicly castigating a young lad who’s settling into a completely different environment isn’t the way to get them onside, and who knows the ripple effect of hanging players out to dry in public. SImilalry post game on Saturday – saying your strikers aren’t ready to play championship football really isn’t something for public broadcast.
Over the past 9 games, we’ve been alarmingly poor – winning only two in a run of games against sides we should be beating. We’re in relegation form, and with a tough run of fixtures coming up, the powers that be decided a change was needed in the short and long term.
When all is said and done, however, Tony Mowbray’s done a solid job here and, more importantly, is a good bloke. When you consider the disdain the likes of David Moyes and Alex Neil treated the club with, Mowbray was a very refreshing change, and one who should rightly be remembered fondly – and welcomed back at the Stadium of Light in the future.