It’s often said that it’s never boring being a Lads fan, something that the events of recent weeks have further highlighted after a raft of bad results and even worse performances from Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland side.
Yet, rather than owning his mistakes it feels like our Head Coach is in blame deflection mode, continually making excuses for the reasons why things haven’t gone to plan.
Following an admittedly-brutal run of games where we seemed to be playing every three days, Mowbray constantly bemoaned the schedule and, in turn, the tiredness of his team. He prayed for the chance to reflect and recharge, and after a week’s break following the loss at Coventry our response was to serve up the worst performance ever seen at the Stadium of Light by a Sunderland team.
As Chris pointed out on the Podcast this week, you’d struggle to find an interview Mowbray’s done recently where he hasn’t talked about Ross Stewart - a player he and we could really do with right now, but one we’ve said “bye bye” to for the remainder of the season due to injury.
Frankly, it feels as though Mowbray’s negativity is seeping into the squad of players he’s working with, because continually highlighting where we are weak and where opposition teams are strong cannot be helpful.
The mentality of the group is shot, and he’s certainly not helping.
Case in point: in his analysis of Saturday’s drubbing, he told the press:
If Ross Stewart was fit we would undoubtedly have looked to play a long ball against Stoke. If you play long balls they can’t press. We know that.
We have Gelhardt at 5ft 7, Patrick Roberts at 5ft 6, Jack Clarke who is not a header of the ball. We haven’t got a target. We have to find a way to score goals.
We keep going with this team and try to improve them, be brave. The next window comes along and we must look to make sure we get Plan B. Then you can go over the top, drop diagonals over their press. At the minute it doesn’t feel like we have that option.
Conceding we have only one way of playing is weak.
Yes, the team is small, but on Saturday he picked Alex Pritchard of all people - our smallest player - to partner Dan Neil in midfield. Against a midfield three of physically robust players. With Luke O’Nien and Pierre Ekwah sat on the bench.
I have no idea whether we’d have won or lost the game with O’Nien and Ekwah in midfield on Saturday, but I bet that we wouldn’t have conceded five goals and failed to protect the back four like we did by sticking Neil and Pritchard in there.
He seems obsessed with this idea that the only plan B for Sunderland is to play long balls forward, and because it’s not available to us right now that we just have to keep persisting with the only way we know.
I’m sorry, but that’s simply not true.
If we pick a midfield two or three with two more defence-minded players in there, it enhances our chances of picking up second balls, winning physical battles and - above all else - competing. We simply haven’t competed in the last three games, and whilst I think Dan Neil has been awful recently, the team selection from Mowbray on Saturday did nobody any favours because he set us up for an almighty fall.
He’s persisting with players that are woefully out of form and need to be managed better.
There’s a total lack of ruthlessness with Mowbray that is concerning me.
Dan Neil has, like most young players, had a very inconsistent season. But mistakes like the one he made for Stoke’s second goal on Saturday have been far too frequent for my liking, and it feels like he’s being flogged by his manager when he would benefit from a rest.
How can he possibly benefit from his continued selection at the minute?
This feels a lot like the situation he landed in last season, where he was overplayed by Lee Johnson and then with the arrival of Alex Neil found himself completely out of the picture.
Similarly, questions must be asked of our persistence with Amad and Joe Gelhardt. Amad has been one of our star performers under Mowbray this season but recently he looks disinterested and lacking the hunger he had upon initially breaking into the side.
On BBC Radio Newcastle after the Coventry game, he was asked by Barnesy about Amad’s form and he outlined that to keep him onside he probably shouldn’t criticise him too much. This for me was a clear insight into Tony’s management style, and whilst I can understand he doesn’t want to rock the boat too much, what do we gain by tiptoeing around players who don’t even belong to us, when there are other (admittedly less experienced but undoubtedly talented) players sat on the bench who would run themselves into the ground to have the minutes on the pitch that Amad gets every week?
And Gelhardt... well, it’s just not working. I’m not sure he ever expected to be playing as a lone striker, but it’s clear nobody knows what he’s good at as a forward and it concerns me that he couldn’t even find his way around a 40-odd year old centre half on Saturday.
These aren’t our players and showing loyalty to them, even when we lack alternative forward options, seems counterproductive. They already know they’re going back to their parent clubs in a couple of months, as do we, so if something’s not working then to me Mowbray has to be unafraid to make changes that might upset them.
Jewison Bennette, Isaac Lihadji and Abdoullah Ba may not be completely ready yet but we’re not even seeing them given proper chances to prove their worth, and at a time when other players aren’t working out or aren’t applying themselves correctly it would make sense to at least give them the opportunity to show what they can do. We pride ourselves on developing young talent, but having them sat on the bench without a chance to show what they can do isn’t the right approach.
We can complain til the cows come home about what should and shouldn’t have happened in the last transfer window but the fact is that this is the squad that Mowbray has got, and he’d be better off looking for positive ways forward instead of constantly moaning and feeling sorry for himself. It’s totally unhelpful.
We have four horrible-looking games coming up and he could end up writing his own P45 if he keeps selecting out-of-form players and refusing to try something different. Nobody is expecting us to go to Norwich and Burnley and win, but we want to see the team compete. We want to see the manager embracing the challenge. We want to see an attempt to change momentum. We want to see signs that he’s recognising the problems.
If not, it could be a long couple of months before the season is over.