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It started amid a celebratory and thoroughly optimistic atmosphere as Sunderland eased past Rotherham on a balmy August evening, and it ended after a scrappy draw with Millwall that at best felt like a temporary stemming of the tide of unrest and at worst, another step towards a parting of the ways.
After just over a year in charge, during which time Sunderland AFC has undergone a great deal of change both on the pitch and off, the Tony Mowbray era is over, with his departure confirmed late on Monday evening.
It might’ve come as a surprise to some but as an expected outcome to others, and suffice it to say, the warning signs had been there in recent weeks.
Increasingly tetchy interviews, the constant musings on the readiness of our players and the none-too-subtle suggestions that the process of elevating Sunderland back to a place in the top flight could take longer than some fans might’ve expected seemed to hint at unrest behind the scenes.
Throw some absolutely bizarre substitutions and tactical approaches into the mix, and things had turned sour at an alarming rate, with losses against Huddersfield and Plymouth rendering Saturday’s draw at The Den scant consolation.
So, how will history view Mowbray’s reign?
Overall, I believe it must be considered a success, not least given the circumstances surrounding his arrival, the brief he was presented with when he took the job, and the many injuries and hurdles that he had to overcome during his time at the helm.
From initially being viewed as a pragmatic if possibly uninspiring choice in the wake of Alex Neil’s messy and divisive departure, the former Middlesbrough skipper defied many of his early sceptics, overseeing the development of a young, talented and dynamic squad and implementing a style and quality of football that was up there with any standard achieved by a Sunderland team in recent years.
Without a doubt, the highs under Mowbray were many.
From the mesmeric Jack Clarke goal against Reading to the last-gasp victories over Blackburn and West Bromwich Albion - the latter capped by a sensational Dennis Cirkin strike- and an end-of-season run propelled by the brilliance of Amad that saw us sneak into the Championship playoffs, where we briefly dared to dream before being outmuscled by Luton.
The thrilling conclusion to the 2022/2023 season was set against the backdrop of a crippling injury list, with players shoehorned into a variety of positions, but Mowbray’s belief in his squad never seemed to waver, and sixth place was arguably far above most people’s expectations.
This season had also seen some excellent results, the standout being a 5-0 demolition of Southampton, but our form had also been erratic and a heavy defeat to Middlesbrough was just one of many frustrating losses we’ve experienced so far.
Under Mowbray, promise has been turned into genuine game-changing ability, albeit there is a lot still to be unlocked, and the summer’s transfer business remains a major bone of contention among the supporters.
The squad wasn’t gutted by any means, but controversial departures and the ongoing emphasis on youth have never found universal acclaim, and that isn’t likely to change under the new head coach, albeit with the January transfer window on the horizon.
On the plus side, we have to remember that this remains an immensely talented group of players.
Clarke, although not in great form right now, has become one of the most potent attacking players in the league, and the likes of Dan Neil, Chris Rigg and Anthony Patterson also benefited from Mowbray’s fatherly approach, evolving into genuinely effective Championship-level players and justifying the club’s continued faith in them.
Whoever takes the job in Mowbray’s stead will be working with a squad heavy on youth and potential but low on confidence and in the midst of a poor spell of form.
Tactical confusion and puzzling selections have become a hallmark in recent weeks, and the new man will need to unravel some of the mysteries and make his mark quickly as he seeks to get our season up and running once again.
Personally, I’m sad to see Mowbray leave, even if it did feel like an inevitability after the recent downturn in results.
Affable, honest and never overawed by scale of the role he took on, he’s one of a small group of Sunderland bosses I genuinely liked, and I’ll always hold fond memories of his time in charge.
In terms of his demeanour, he was much closer to the self-confident and bullish Scouse approach of Peter Reid than the meek and often doubtful mindset of many who’ve passed this way in recent times, and coaching Sunderland seldom felt like too arduous a task for him.
As for the here and now, there’s little time to waste as we seek a replacement.
Kristjaan Speakman and his team have already demonstrated that they’re not afraid of making the big calls when necessary, and there’ll doubtless be a flurry of names - both from home and abroad - linked with the role in the coming days.
Given that they’re always trying to be forward-thinking, it feels like a safe bet that a list of viable candidates will be being examined and the new man will be in place soon, and it must be a smooth process.
With a home double header against West Brom and Leeds United to come, we’re entering a crucial period as the festive schedule ramps up, and whoever is unveiled will inherit a dressing room filled with good, honest footballers who are currently lacking direction.
The season is by no means a write off, but the timing of the change is undeniably awkward and after the familiarity of a man with over eight hundred games under his belt as a manager, it feels like we’re taking another big step into the unknown.
Those making the decision have earned the right to do so but as Mowbray moves on, it’s right that his notable contribution to the recent history of our club is acknowledged and applauded.
Thanks for the past fifteen months, Mogga, and best wishes for whatever comes next.