Halloween 2017; Simon Grayson sees his miserable reign as manager cut short after a draw with Bolton. Two years on, the parallels between the situation he found himself in, and the one Jack Ross is in now aren’t hard to see.
All of the flaws which aren’t necessarily obvious when you look at the table were on display on Saturday. We struggled to break down a newly formed Bolton side, over-reliant on individuals to show their class. Clear cut chances were few and far between and we didn’t test their goalkeeper nearly as much as we should have. Typically, in defence, we looked vulnerable, which Bolton exploited.
These deficiencies have dogged our time in League One, generally regardless of which players have been on the pitch We would have stumbled through had we played Bolton a month ago, papering over any cracks against youngsters too naïve to exploit our weaknesses. To their credit, Bolton were well organised defensively and didn’t let us settle in the opening stages. They created decent chances and were unlucky not to come away with all three points.
The relationship between certain sections of the fanbase and Jack Ross is unlike anything I’ve known as a Sunderland fan. With other managers, they’ve been easy to pick faults with. You didn’t have to look too hard at David Moyes or Simon Grayson to see that things just weren’t working out. Opportunities to seriously criticise the manager have been thin on the ground this season, given that we’re still in the play-off places and have won most of our games. An ugly win is still a win, and to some people, it is the sign of a good team.
There’s been a growing minority calling for Ross’ head ever since the end of last season. The backlash from Ross’ comments ahead of the Bolton game showed how eager some are to criticise the manager given the chance. His soundbite was standardly bland, retaining the ability to spin a win and say ‘I told you so’ should we lose the game. Opposition managers fixate on our budget and size for similar reasons. In my time watching football, I can’t say I’ve ever heard a manager confident enough to come out before a match and boast about how team were going to batter the opposition. To criticise him for not doing that was ridiculous and in hindsight, he was spot on to do so.
I do think it’s the beginning of the end for Jack Ross now. Saturday was a turning point for me, and for seemingly a few others. He’s got a few things going for him, but they are seemingly just delaying the inevitable now. I’m still not convinced that there’s a realistic, suitable replacement available. Talk of getting Chris Hughton is optimistic to say the least, and Sam Allardyce even more so. It’s also worth pointing out that of the six outfield players signed during the summer, only four of them have actually played. It would make sense to at least wait and see whether Laurens De Bock or Joel Lynch solved some of the defensive issues we are encountering before making a decision on Jack Ross’ future.
Whether Jack Ross is around long enough to benefit from these things is another question. The turning of the away support is usually one of the death throes of a managerial stint. Ultimately though, the problems at this club go beyond the manager. Recruitment has been questionable; basic errors have cost us points. Against Rotherham, Jack Ross didn’t miss the penalty or allow Jake Hastie the space he received to fire home the equaliser. However, it’s not unreasonable to believe that if someone else was in charge overall performances in these games would have been better. Whether the board likes it or not, sooner or later they will have a decision to make.