All in all, I think it’s fair to say we’ve had a successful season. We’ve stayed up comfortably, were a centre half away from gaining promotion, and have enjoyed some of the most entertaining football I’ve ever seen us produce in my four decades of supporting the lads.
That’s not to say it’s been perfect. While the transfer business we’ve managed to finalise has, on the whole, been superb, the business we weren’t able to do undoubtedly left us short.
Off the field, we’re still hampered by mediocrity, particularly around the ticket office situation, and the general condition of the Stadium of Light, while on the field while there’s been significant highlights, we’ve endured some poor results at home, and the capitulation at home to Stoke will never be completely forgotten.
That Stoke result seemed to provoke a bit of a reset in Tony Mowbray’s attitude. He’d spent six weeks bemoaning Ross Stewart’s absence and talking of problems, not opportunities – and had seemingly written off any chances of promotion.
Results wise, this coincided with a run of one win in ten, so it would be no surprise if the powers that be weren’t ramping up their due diligence on alternative head coaches in case that run continued.
In fact, it would have been more concerning if they weren’t.
The Italian Francesco Farioli was strongly linked via a reputable source, and Mowbray himself commented on the situation, saying he’d spoken to Kristjaan Speakman about the situation – however, hints at any resolution were missing.
Of course, our strong end to the season made the speculation over Mowbray’s future seem vastly misplaced, but amid the news stories that came out immediately after the Luton game, and the resultant ‘outrage’ from the footballing fraternity about the ‘ridiculousness’ of the speculation, one thing was overlooked.
It was Tony Mowbray himself who chose to ignite the speculation. It was Mowbray that lit the touchpaper with his post-match comments.
Evidently, Mowbray hadn’t got the answers he really wanted from Speakman, and seemingly wanted to harness the goodwill and sentiment that existed in abundance post-game, but would subside.
It was goodwill that was very well deserved. I think Mowbray’s done a fantastic job overall. He’s impressively harnessed the connection between club, players and fans, and as a north east (North Yorkshire) native, he understands the club and people.
But deciding to raise questions about his future, he’s entered a metaphorical arm wrestle with Speakman. Over what? His job? Input into transfers? Who knows. He wasn’t happy with being left so short in January, and rumours subsequently circulated over a falling out between the two.
So it’s going to be interesting to see how this all transpires over the coming months. Do the club genuinely believe Mowbray’s the man to take us up – which undoubtedly has to be next season’s ambition? Maybe, maybe not.
But you can’t underestimate the impact Tony Mowbray the man has made on the club, fans and players – and for now, in this period of our evolution, that’s arguably just as important as anything else.
Carl Winchester – Sunderland’s unsung hero
While the announcement of our official retained list has been delayed by our involvement in the play offs, one player, Carl Winchester, announced on social media that his contract wasn’t being renewed, and his time with the club had come to an end.
I don’t think many people would have been surprised by the news, although I’m sure Winchester spent a bit of time this season regretting accepting his loan move to Shrewsbury, given our injuries, particularly in defence.
While Winchester did a good job on the field – particularly at right back in the first part of last season, when he was arguably our most impressive player – I think his influence off the field was just as important, if not more so.
David Preece, the former goalkeeping coach, spoke this week about the ‘toxic’ dressing room that had existed prior to his arrival, and Winchester was someone who loves being a footballer, and genuinely appreciated playing for Sunderland.
He was signed by Lee Johnson early in his reign as someone he could trust, someone who he’d managed previously and someone who could be relied upon to lead the players. Someone who could change the mentality, someone who others would follow.
He was evidently a very popular person among other players, and seemed to really supercharge that transition from ‘toxic’ dressing room to the one we see evidence of today; a group of players who want to be here, want to play for Sunderland, and take huge pride in doing so.
In terms of signings, Winchester may just have been one of the most important we ever made during our League One days, and will rightly be very fondly remembered.