After a week without a match Sunderland returned to the field, with another fixture against Gillingham. Last time we travelled to the Priestfield Stadium Gillingham were 1-0 winners, with that defeat knocking us out of the FA Cup. This time it was an opportunity for revenge, with an even more important game, this time in the league. After a disastrous run of form under Phil Parkinson things needed to change drastically, with Sunderland quickly plummeting down the league table.
The idea that adjustments were urgently needed was evident with Parkinson’s team selection as he made a total of six changes from the side that lost to Burton. Jon McLaughlin replaced Lee Burge in goal, nothing too outrageous considering both of them are brilliant for this level of football. The more concerning part was the fact that he chose a five-back formation with two extremely defensive midfielders just in front.
Alim Ozturk, Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan were the three central defenders, an absolutely delusional decision in my opinion. Tom Flanagan is no-where near good enough to be playing at this level, the number of scares he has given us when in possession in such a short period of time really says it all. Grant Leadbitter and George Dobson was the chosen partnership for central midfield. Although Grant Leadbitter wears his heart on his sleeve, he is far past his brilliant best. His play style consists of short passes, usually backwards with the occasional hoof forward towards Will Grigg. The Northern-Irishman seems to have forgotten that his main job is to score goals, yet somehow, he continues to be selected every week. The only positive was the fact that Parkinson went for two strikers, but this was cancelled out by the fact we basically had seven defensive players on the pitch, eight if you include Luke O’Nien.
The travelling supporters probably lost all hope of securing a victory after seeing the team sheet, but as always, they were prepared to sing regardless. It was a relatively slow start from both sides, with neither team really putting their stamp on the game. Gillingham took a pretty simplistic approach as they constantly fired long balls towards the Sunderland backline, hoping to cause a mistake or force a lucky knock down. The Gills weren’t far from opening the scoring, with former Sunderland youngster Mikael Mandron heading against the crossbar from close range. It couldn’t really have been much closer, with the home supporters feeling that it had crossed the line. Fortunately for us the officials waved played on, a huge let off but a sign of things to come from the remainder of the match. Sunderland lived dangerously again, with Mandron somehow finding the crossbar again instead of the back of the net from just two yards out. It was another shambolic half from our perspective, our standards seem to be slipping lower and lower as the season progresses.
We did eventually offer some form of attacking threat, with Luke O’Nien’s half volley being parried away to safety by Jack Bonham. Charlie Wyke made his return from injury, came on as a substitute with sixty minutes on the clock. He almost returned with a goal but fired his attempt just wide after turning well with the ball. However, it looked like he had found the net moments later after heading home from close range but the referee eventually ruled the goal out because O’Nien fouled the keeper.
Typically, it was Gillingham who found a winner in the dying embers of the game, as Connor Ogilvie hammered the ball into the back of the Sunderland net, 1-0. That’s now eight defeats in Phil Parkinson’s opening twelve games in charge, a record that even the most pessimistic of supporters couldn’t imagine.
Understandably, a number of supporters had lost genuine interest at this point. We have fallen to become a mediocre League 1 side and that’s on a good day. That’s now six away defeats on the bounce, the most consecutive losses away from home in our history. This is a truly incredible statistic considering we are playing at the lowest level we’ve ever been at.
Quite clearly, Phil Parkinson is not the man for the job and it’s probably better that Stewart Donald bites the bullet and gives the recently appointed manager the sack sooner rather than later. He lacks character and charisma but more importantly his tactics are simply woeful, with an extremely defensive approach that just doesn’t work. It seems more like a relegation scrap than a promotion battle at this rate!