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Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Fan Letters: “Once Sunderland supporters turn on the head coach, there’s no way back”

The fallout from Friday’s defeat to Hull City dominates the agenda today, and there’s also some criticism of the club hierarchy for decisions that have been made. Got something to say? Email us: RokerReport@yahoo.co.uk

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images


Dear Roker Report,

What now?

I understand that Sunderland supporters will be labeled ‘unreasonable’ for their calls for Michael Beale to be relieved of his duties so early into his tenure. However, many fans (myself included), can’t help but feel that he should’ve been nowhere near the hot seat in the first place.

There were signs of discontent toward the end of last season and during the summer when Sunderland were linked with another head coach- something the board claimed was merely ‘succession planning’ and part of their supposed relentless pursuit of excellence, no doubt.

Except that’s not what it was at all, as evidenced by the three weeks it took to appoint Mowbray’s successor when the decision was eventually made to replace him. It was classless and Sunderland supporters, as well as Mowbray, didn’t like it.

This season hasn’t felt like 2022/2023 to me, and yes, there were some performances where it seemed as though there wasn’t a way to change things from the sidelines.

I didn’t feel that Mowbray was the problem and I certainly wouldn’t have sacked him.

The reasons given for this decision were laughable when you follow it up by appointing a candidate of the calibre of Beale.

The hierarchy has tried to tell us that he’s a step up, but he’s not, and now we’re in a cycle where supporters are called unreasonable for pointing this out. Perhaps someone should explain it to Kristjaan Speakman in terms he understands- after all, we have an ‘obsession with progression’ and are ‘seeking a high-performance culture.’

Beale’s comments after every game so far bother me.

He makes excuses and deflects from his performance at every opportunity. I’ve heard criticism of Beale (not the players) at the games, and the atmosphere is flat.

The experience of recent weeks, both on and off the field, has stripped us of our optimism, but Beale is right about one thing: if supporters don’t support the team, they won’t play as well as they can.

Perhaps the board should’ve considered that before alienating them with their ineptitude?

For the record, I’ve not heard them turn on the team, which is something that Beale seems keen to accuse us of while simultaneously criticising them himself to anyone who’ll listen.

Sunderland’s present troubles feel self-inflicted and in my experience, once the supporters turn, there’s no way back.

It’s only a question of how long this will go on for and how much damage will be done in the meantime. Given the rapid evaporation of positivity in the last six weeks, it’s a huge worry.

What next? He’s got to go.

Rachel Turnbull

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Rachel. Thank you for your letter.

Friday’s loss, and the performance of the team, was really poor, but it wasn’t a surprise to me.

Things didn't feel right from the very first whistle and the manner in which we failed to really trouble an injury-hit Hull team was a huge concern. There was no spark, our tactical approach was woeful, and many of the players simply didn’t look up for the game.

The reality is that after seven games, there’s been little (if any) upturn in performances and certainly results, and Michael Beale is looking increasingly like the wrong man for the job.

A lot has already been written and spoken about it, but what I’d say is that mistakes need to be rectified swiftly, and the decision to appoint Beale is looking ever more like a huge error from the club hierarchy.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Following Friday night’s inept and pedestrian performance and the announcement of a 40,000+ crowd, when will the club stop lying and actually report the accurate number of people that come through the turnstiles?

Will they continue to announce attendances of 36,000 even when the stadium is half full?

It seems deceitful in my opinion, but do all clubs engage in the same practice?

Jan

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Jan. Thank you for getting in touch.

I do find the incessant fudging of attendance figures at the Stadium of Light somewhat peculiar.

There’s no way that 40,000 of us turned out on Friday night (understandably so, given the weather, the fact that it was televised, and the kick off time), and I’m not sure why the number seems to be inflated on such a regular basis.

It’s not a particularly great look, that’s for sure.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Under the current regime at Sunderland, there’s no question that they’ve moved us on and improved our prospects to a quite staggering extent, and for that we should retain a huge amount of respect and gratitude.

Where we once had League One, we now have the Championship; where we once scratched our heads at Josh Scowen, we admire Jobe Bellingham, and from the Tom Flanagans and Jack Baldwins of this world, we’re now privileged to watch Dan Ballard.

The overall value of the squad and the evident resale value of almost every player is beyond comparison to that which we’d almost become accustomed a mere two seasons ago.

With that in mind, all should be red, white and rosy in the garden of Sunderland AFC, one would think.

Sadly, at this great club of ours, nothing is ever as straightforward as that. Football is fickle and comparatively small successes only take you so far.

The appointment of Tony Mowbray wasn’t for everyone.

It wasn’t for me either, but he won us over with his candour, his gentlemanly conduct and his ethos of allowing his players to play without complication.

He’ll be fondly remembered and always well received on the occasions he returns to Wearside, and I can’t help but wonder what he could’ve achieved had the powers that be furnished him with a striker of note during his tenure.

Let’s be frank here: that’s the crux of it all.

That’s what sets progress apart from backward steps- the infuriatingly obvious need for a striker and the excruciating reluctance to invest in one, and one that counts, not those we’ve ended up with.

The subject has more than ruffled a few feathers among a fanbase who predicted what would happen if the issue wasn’t addressed.

For all of Mowbray’s tactical deficiencies, he papered over ever widening cracks in the Kristjaan Speakman/Kyril Louis-Dreyfus ‘model’ by taking us forward with nobody leading the line.

We probably didn’t know what we had when he was here and Speakman clearly didn’t when he advocated his release and replaced him with Michael Beale, the most uninspiring appointment since Howard Wilkinson.

With all that’s going on off the pitch - another story, perhaps- the very last thing this club needed was a head coach devoid of charisma who’d left thousands of distraught fans in his wake at previous clubs. He also carries an air of Charlie Methven around with him which is vomit-inducing.

We’ve been sold a new dawn of a brand new model and told that we won’t spend big, but it’s fine because we have youthful exuberance on our side. That’s three layers and that, to me, is the s**t sandwich we’ve been sold.

Off the field, things need to change badly, but it was tolerated when things were going well on the pitch.

When we embarrass ourselves both on and off field in tandem, that’s where a problem arises and it's a problem that’ll eclipse anything Dreyfus and Speakman have ever encountered if they don’t address things soon.

You can enjoy the backslapping when it’s warranted, but you must also take the criticism and take action when you make mistakes. I’m yet to see Speakman own a mistake, and I’m yet to see Dreyfus say anything of substance during his tenure.

The time for action is now.

Ruaidhri Heath

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Ruaidhri. Thank you for your letter.

In the three years since the current regime arrived, this is the first time that our new way of operating has come under such intense scrutiny, not least because the club have been guilty of a series of glaring missteps in recent weeks and results haven't been great, either.

Fundamentally, there are only two ways for a club like Sunderland to thrive within an ever-changing and ruthless footballing landscape.

The first option is to continue as we are now, trying to be canny with recruitment and recouping sizeable fees from player sales which can be reinvested into the squad, and the second is to hope that a rich individual or consortium decides to swoop in, make Kyril Louis-Dreyfus an offer he can’t refuse and start spending heavily.

At the moment, I can’t see the latter happening.

Championship clubs simply aren’t being purchased by wealthy buyers, and for better or worse, I think that the current way of operating will remain in place for the foreseeable future, albeit with some renewed scepticism if we aren’t promoted this season.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

We meet again.

I had a great evening on Friday night as I went to watch Ed Sheeran with my girlfriend and a few friends.

It was an amazing concert but the only downer was that we sat in traffic for two hours afterwards, which afforded me the time to watch the Lads on my phone.

I wish I’d continued staring at the brake lights of the car in front and allowed them to melt my eyeballs, because ‘Beale Ball’ is officially the WORST football to have been witnessed at the Stadium of Light.

I didn’t even need to see the heat map of our passing against Hull to know the ball was continuously being recycled through Jack Clarke on the left and that Jenson Seelt was pretty much operating as a central midfield partner to Alex Pritchard, Jobe, Pierre Ekwah and Dan Neil.

The lack of width was mind boggling and Nazariy Rusyn was also basically tucked into that well compacted midfield at times.

There were also some odd points made by our head coach:

  • Michael Beale said in midweek that Hemir needed to go out on loan, but he stuck him on the bench and brought him on.

- Eliezer Mayenda’s been class in training and scored two good goals for the U21’s but didn’t make the bench.

- Abdoullah Ba had a great game last week and gave us width, so why was he back on the bench on Friday?

There’s also a common point being made by the fans who watch the games that Jobe is getting progressively worse due to fatigue. All the fans can see this so why’s he on the pitch? Is Kristjaan Speakman putting his name on the team sheet?

Please, Kyril, if you read anything that the fans have to say on the direction our club’s going, pull the plug now and appoint someone with some real experience- Sam Allardyce, maybe?

There are three names who’d be welcomed by the fans: Mike Dodds, Steve Cooper or Graham Potter. Dodds could have it until the end of the season and then we could start afresh with either of the other two.

I said after Ipswich that our next eight games are against teams below us in the league. If after half of them, we haven’t taken between seven and nine points and showed major signs of turning it around, he needs to go.

The season will be gone if this doesn’t happen.

Cal

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Cal. Thank you for getting in touch.

We were dismal on Friday night and some of the selections were puzzling to say the least. The insistence on playing certain players regardless of form and fitness is baffling, and our approach to the game was uninspired and far too timid, in my opinion.

I can’t recall a recent instance where a Sunderland head coach has found himself under such scrutiny after so short a time, but by the same token, Beale’s undistinguished CV, combined with the unconvincing reasons for hiring him haven’t gone down well with our fans.

He needs performances to take a major upturn and for results to follow. The Ipswich and Hull games were winnable and we failed on both occasions, which adds extra pressure to the upcoming matches against Stoke City and Middlesbrough.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

After a very frustrating night at the Stadium of Light, I decided to wait before addressing my thoughts.

Sacking Tony Mowbray wasn’t a problem for me because although he advocated a passing style, the build-up was far too slow.

However, I expected a new head coach to be far more adept at bringing in a more attacking format, especially during home games, but Michael Beale appears not to favour such an approach, even at home.

I think Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman need to offer a formal apology to Nazariy Rusyn, who I’m sure expected to be played as a centre forward at Sunderland.

Instead, he finds his role is to chase across the back four, and to try and delay the opposition from getting the ball forward, so how frustrated must he be?

I’ve longed to see both Rusyn and Hemir playing together and perhaps forming a partnership like Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, and I was hopeful when Hemir appeared on the touchline ready to come on. Alas, I should’ve known that Rusyn would be the one to make way for his introduction.

There was no chance of either Alex Pritchard or Jobe Bellingham being taken off, but to make that partnership work, it would require crosses to be delivered from both wings and we just don’t play with anyone who can deliver a cross into the box.

Pierre Ekwah is too slow in building up attacks and probably needs a break, whereas Luke O’Nien showed again how good he is at breaking forward and with his power, we need him in midfield, with Jenson Seelt brought into the back four but as a central partner to Dan Ballard.

I spent all of last season enjoying the football irrespective of the result, but not so this season.

We’ve made a mistake with this appointment, and I suspect Dreyfus and Speakman are also starting to realise this.

After seven games, the fans have turned and it’ll be difficult to change their minds. Beale’s only option is to play attractive football and get results. If he can’t do that, he’s toast.

Bill Fisher

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Bill. Thank you for your letter.

Suffice it to say, the feel good vibe that Sunderland have enjoyed in recent times, and certainly when we beat Southampton earlier in the season, has been replaced by something far less enjoyable.

The football in recent weeks has been uninspired, the surrender to Newcastle in the FA Cup was tame, and there’s little evidence of the supposed tactical mastery that convinced Sunderland to hire Beale.

Can he turn it around? I’m not convinced he can, because the warning signs against Hull were glaring and if the players aren’t fully invested in what he’s trying to do, he’s on a hiding to nothing. The next two games are huge for him, to say the least.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

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