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Barnsey’s Blog 20/21

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Barnesy’s Blog: “Sunderland have invested in Michael Beale and they aren’t about to bin him”

In his latest Roker Report blog, BBC Newcastle’s Nick Barnes offers his thoughts on the state of play as the club tries to get things back on an even keel after a bad month

Danny Roberts

I’m a great fan of Charles Dickens, and Michael Beale could’ve walked straight from the pages of ‘Oliver Twist’.

He’s the modern-day pantomime villain; the ‘Fagin’ of 2024 with his mockney accent, mocked and vilified by fans, and seemingly at the centre of Sunderland’s latest footballing storm. Indeed, ‘Storm Beale’ is yet to pass in the current cycle of winter storms.

Beale is undeniably in the midst of this current tornado, which was whipped up with the sacking of Tony Mowbray and then stirred by the derby calamity and the home defeat to Hull City.

‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ sang the fans. Not the Hull fans- the Sunderland fans.

Underwhelmed by the 43-year-old from Bromley (not even a Cockney even though he’s deemed to be so), his bid to try and overwhelm has fallen undeniably flat.

His plea following for some objectivity following the Hull defeat has fallen on seemingly deaf ears. He likes Tony Mowbray and gets on well with him, but Tony’s moved on, he says, and he’s now the man in charge.

He sits in the glare of the TV cameras and journalists and just seems to basically piss the fans off.

He doesn’t speak like Lee Johnson and he’s not negative. In fact, he sways perhaps too far towards positivity at a time when fans’ positivity has been sucked from them over the past month.

Their loyalty has been trampled all over, and it’s perhaps no surprise that in the light of the month’s events, they’ve found their voice in the stands. It’s not being listened to anywhere else, after all.

Sunderland Unveil New Head Coach Michael Beale Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With Kyril Louis-Dreyfus still to explain the events leading up to January 6th, although that explanation is seemingly imminent with the publication of the minutes from the fans’ collective meeting, the void is being filled with condemnation of the one man that can be easily targeted.

Unfairly? Well, that depends on where you’re coming from.

Is it from a football perspective? Is it from a geographical perspective? Is it from the ‘school of cheap appointments’ perspective? Or perhaps all of those perspectives.

Beale has pleaded as best he can for some patience and understanding, but until improvement comes on the pitch, it’s hard to say he’ll be rewarded in that wish.

Interestingly, despite Mowbray’s obvious desire to see some experience in the team and not seemingly being allowed to play the likes of Alex Pritchard, Beale has voiced his desire to see more ‘grey hairs’ in the team and has been playing Pritchard, a player he says he doesn’t want to lose.

Music to fans’ ears, surely, but music that doesn’t appear to have struck the right chords yet.

If Beale is, as everyone seems to suggest, Kristjaan Speakman’s man, those statements alone seem to suggest otherwise and I’m not sure how all this is going to end.

It’s exceptional in my twenty years of covering the club.

Steve Bruce’s exit was swift, even if it was undignified and vocal. The axe fell on Paolo di Canio when he basically lost the plot. Gus Poyet pressed all the wrong buttons for owner Ellis Short to the point where his exit was self-engineered and inevitable. That was a clash of personalities.

Sunderland U21 v Liverpool U21 - Barclays U21 Premier League Photo by Ian Horrocks - Sunderland AFC/Getty Images

On the one hand, it’s hard to see Beale surviving now the fanbase has turned on him in such vocal numbers, but he’ll be in charge against Stoke City.

If Sunderland win, he’ll be in charge at Middlesbrough. Win at Boro, and he’ll be in charge against Plymouth Argyle, and so on. The club has invested in Beale and isn’t about to bin him.

However, if he were to lose to a Stoke team struggling to impose itself, even though there’s been improvement under Steven Schumacher, then the question will have to be asked by the owners as to where the club positions itself.

Simon Grayson and Phil Parkinson were unpopular appointments and were ultimately sacked when results appeared to be derailing the promotion push.

Following a sixth-place finish last season and being in sixth when Mowbray departed, the impression is that despite being only three points from the playoffs, the wheels are coming off again.

Grayson, Parkinson and to some extent Johnson were all sacked in less febrile atmospheres, so if this current situation festers, I fear there’ll only be one way out for the club.

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

It’s fair to say the circus is of the club’s own making.

It was preventable and a failure to read the mood has turned out, while not to be catastrophic at the moment, potentially so, as fans become disenfranchised, disillusioned, and unquestionably angry. Indeed, many are already.

There was a point during the 2017/2018 season at Ipswich Town when one sensed the season would end with relegation. It was intuitive after watching a performance so broken and desperate, one knew there was only going to be one outcome.

Sunderland are now at a crossroads.

Performances and results have to improve. There has to be good business completed in the transfer window and the club has to restore belief in the fans who, following an underwhelming month and a sense of malaise even in the light of some positive results, needs resuscitating.

Hard times, but the good times aren’t far away if the right decisions are taken in the coming weeks.


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