In one fleeting season, following financial impropriety from Swindon Town, Sunderland took to the main stage. The top flight of English football beckoned under a manager who had lifted us from our previous lowest ebb on the back of journeymen and young prospects. Denis Smith was revered for what he had done in a relatively short space of time to put us back on the map. Away fans would look at each other in a mix of confusion and awe as the constant churn of “Denis Smith’s Red and White Army” rattled into its 20th minute of rendition.
Denis Smith was revered by the Sunderland faithful for what he achieved, not least bringing Marco to our attention and beating the mags in the play offs. We were relegated despite fighting for our place with the most desperate fight at Maine Road and shortly after relegation he was seeking new employment.
Managers tend to have limited grace at most clubs and you could argue that he fell victim to the failure of the board to recognise an opportunity at a time when football was evolving. Malcolm Crosby took to the helm as caretaker amid rumours of Neil Warnock picking up a copy of the Mackem Dictionary to acclimatise himself to the region.
As Crosby embarked on a memorable cup run the paddocks struck up a song to tell the board precisely where they could stick Neil Warnock. We lost the cup and Crosby was sacked following a pools panel deciding Tranmere were likely to record a home win after the match was postponed. Long before that the Sunderland faithful had decided he wasn’t up to it.
So we went on a run of managers, Reid had a beer chucked in his face despite delivering some of the most memorable times to the Stadium of Light; McCarthy sympathetically dismissed after a lack of investment. Wilkinson and Cotterill, well let’s not mention them. O’Neill revered at first discarded at last. The escapologists of Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat followed by Moyes and Big Sam. The tenure of a Sunderland manager is rarely a long term ambition.
Eventually we turn to Jack Ross and the shift in opinion is more volatile than I have seen for a while. Many of us believe he will go on to be a good manager; and that makes sense. He is intelligent, he is articulate and pretty OCD when it comes to statistics. On the other hand, we are equally frustrated that we haven’t yet recorded what any of us would call a brand defining result.
The albatross of 1-1 draws may yet be his undoing but the performance in the first half against MK Dons showed glimpses of just how free flowing and aggressive we could be given half a chance. There was hope in a 30 minute spell that we had found our feet following a solidity in defence. With trust in the defence the midfield seemed more free, unburdened from protecting the back line. Luke O’Nien spun the defensive midfielders of MK Dons in circles and the panic was visible. At half time the score could have been four or five.
After that match a poll was run which showed a huge sway in numbers supporting sticking with Ross.
This shift may well be solidified by a victory at Lincoln; on the other hand a defeat (or worse a 1-1 draw) may plunge him into the abyss. This is a delicate line to tread. Lincoln of course are heading through a transition as the bright young management duo of Danny and Nicky Cowley moved on to greener pastures; they have failed to win since.
A 6-0 home drubbing at the hand of Oxford Utd is a particular low point. A result which may, or may not, have pleased our current owners. That brings us on to another conundrum; just how much is the talk of takeovers affecting the squad? We have all heard the conferences where players and managers and coaching staff declare ignorance and assure us it all about the performance and the talk in the offices is immaterial but if it is affecting the fans you can bet it is affecting the players.
The match being called off against Fleetwood is a bizarre decision given the depth of the squad and perhaps points to the fact that there is little confidence in the quality behind the chosen starting XI. It is interesting that the match was postponed after the MK Dons match when Luke O’Nien was given the opportunity to fill that role behind the striker. Perhaps the manager is thinking tactically on this one but with a fixture pile up imminent you would think Luke 09 will have to revert to defensive duties when we have three games to play in a week; unless… well we probably shouldn’t speculate about what could happen in January until the next few months are out of the way.
A win this weekend could see us two points away from Ipswich and banging on the door of the Championship. Defeat could see us sliding down the league and place the millstone of anxiety around our necks. Make no mistake about it, from now until the end of the season it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a comfortable ride so stick with it.