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West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Tony Mowbray: This quiet, unassuming man deserves all the credit in the world

He’s done everything that’s been expected and more this season. That he wasn’t nominated for manager of the season seems pretty damn silly right now...

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

In the words of police chief Martin Brody in Jaws, Sunderland are “gonna need a bigger boat.”

If you had a small child, you probably made them cry with the noise you made at various points during the second half at Deepdale.

I sure know that I did. And I will take that bollocking.

For twenty minutes at the start of the second half, Sunderland pulled their opponents to pieces, producing a type of football there was simply no answer to. Not at this level anyway.

Preston North End v Sunderland: Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

What was unfolding was most un-Sunderland, with the players producing the sort of football which deserved to grace the very top level.

The man who takes credit for this? You don’t need me to tell you who.

We shouldn’t call him Teesside’s answer to Guardiola, we should be calling Pep Manchester’s answer to Tony Mowbray.

Yes, there were the tactical tweaks - born again of necessity due to injuries - but inspired nonetheless by the man who has quietly changed everything about the mentality and mindset of the team.

Not that it needed changing, but they have gone from being told they will be okay in this division, to being sold the dream - which turned to reality - that they could really achieve something.

Boy, they have.

His constant beating of his drum to the mantra of no pressure, no expectation, and crucially no judgement has been so important since he walked through the door in September.

It was there on display in every aspect of Sunderland’s play at Deepdale yesterday.

Pierre Ekwah put in the sort of performance you would have expected from a player with 300 games under his belt. His ability to remain calm under pressure, working in tandem with an imperious Dan Neil was a sight to behold.

Yet, just a few weeks previously he was giving away a last kick penalty against Hull - a moment that does not matter a jot now, it must be said.

Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

He has responded to this setback as if it never happened. Why? Because he is backed and believed in by his manager. It is Mowbray’s man management style that has allowed these young stars to flourish; but it has also allowed the older heads to step up, take responsibility and embrace the pressure of leading. Luke O’Nien is the prime example.

It has been a breath of fresh air.

That’s without mentioning the horrendous injury problems. Sunderland have been without a spine for far too long now - yet this hasn’t hindered them. Someone picks up a knock and another slots seamlessly into the side; this team has been like a serpent you cut the head off, only for it to immediately grow another one in its place.

Alex Neil left because he wanted to do it his way. His blueprint, his ideas and his team in spite of the board’s vision. Tony Mowbray has come in and done it his way, with the players he has been given and within the parameters he has been set. What a match made in heaven it has been.

Neil was desperate to restore the reputation he felt he lost after his time at Preston and Norwich. Tony Mowbray on the other hand has had nothing whatsoever to prove. The essence of this has been palpable from minute one. Here we have a man so comfortable in his own skin, someone who is confident in his beliefs and sees with absolute clarity the benefits of trusting in players who he can see almost endless ability in.

He has agreed to work within a structure set by the board, but within that the freedom to manage this young crop of players as he sees fit. Goodness me has that paid dividends.

Would it have been the same under Neil? No, it would have been different. Mid-table probably but playoffs - not on your nelly. We did not know it at the time but his decision to leave at the start of the season was the most important moment of the whole campaign - apart from, let’s be honest, Stuart Harvey striking the deal to bring in Amad on loan.

What it might mean for next season is even more exciting. If we go up then it changes the whole picture. A five-year plan ripped up just like that. A new, more exciting vision is required. If we do not go up then looking forward to next season where we could and should be one of the driving forces in the division. Well, what a prospect that is.

Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

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