Just when are Sunderland going to bottom out? It is a question I have often found myself asking over the past three years or so, but each time I feel like we have reached the barrels bottom, another Saturday comes around or yet more off-field troubles occur.
I thought that fifth in League One and subsequently losing the Play-Off final in May was as low as it would get for me as a Sunderland supporter. After all, that was officially the worst it has ever been. No previous generation of supporter, no matter how many horror stories we’ve heard from our elders, has seen this club in a worse position than it is now; a second successive campaign in League One.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised this wasn’t the bottoming out of the club though. Upon every fell swoop at the moment, Sunderland seem committed to finding new depths to sink to, to give yet more kicks while we’re flat on our bellies on the ground and to rub even more salt to rub into the ever growing wound.
The David Moyes era was as bad as a relegation from the Premier League can be. For me, it eclipsed the 15-pointers in 2004 for whom while it was embarrassing, they at least mustered up some effort beyond their ability. The team in 2017, aside from Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford and arguably Patrick van Aanholt, didn’t have the ability to stay up but more crucially didn’t have the attitude to stay up, but when your manager tells you you’re in a relegation battle after just 180 minutes of the season then the warning signs were there.
Having to endure the likes of record signing, Didier Ndong, and the influx Everton old boys as Moyes brought the band back together with the likes of Steven Pienaar, Victor Anichebe, Darron Gibson and Joleon Lescott was painful. Succeeding the foundations in which Sam Allardyce had laid 12-months previous this was gut wrenching. A chance to progress a little and move away from perennial relegation battles was passed up with an abundance of half arsed recruitment, half arsed mentality and half arsed everything else. It was dire. Moyes, and Ellis Short by this stage, successfully suffocated the life out of the club and the supporters.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the avalanche. Simon Grayson was brought in for the Championship promotion charge and was out of the door by the time everyone had carved out their pumpkins following a dismal start to the season. Chris Coleman offered a crumb of comfort in that we could still attract a name of his calibre – on the back of his Euro 2016 success with Wales – but was given nothing to strengthen in the January window as we continued to stink out the Championship.
Jason Steele, Robbin Ruiter and Lee Camp typified the Championship campaign. Three awful goalkeepers who strived to out-shit each other whenever they were given the gloves. By this point I should say I had not witnessed Sunderland finish below third in the Championship in my life and with the threat of back-to-back relegations looking distinctly likely I often sought the comfort of my Dad’s experiences of following us the last time we were relegated to the third division. It sounded as awful as it is.
Surely then, being relegated from the Championship would be as low as it would get? But even that was done so with the parting shot of Burton Albion – the team in which we so joyfully humoured ourselves about the mags playing in the league the previous year – relegating us at the Stadium of Light.
At this stage, the previous two seasons had seen just 13 league wins from 84 attempts, two bottom of the table finishes, an owner who had shut up shop, wanted out, and refused to put in any more money and heading into a League One campaign for just the second time in the club’s history without a manager. That’s as low as it would ever be, right?
Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven offered a chink of optimism when they took over from Short. The fans were back on side after years of miscommunication and neglect. The Sunderland oil tanker may finally have slammed its brakes on and was beginning to turn around. And then last season happened. We failed, miserably in the end. Draws became our motto including having to rescue one from being 0-2 down at home to Accrington Stanley in front of the Sky tv cameras. That would be as low as it would get, right? Wrong. The season was rounded off with embarrassing defeats at Fleetwood Town and Southend United and promotion was spurned at Wembley against Charlton, again.
Uncertainties surrounding the financial clout of Donald and co plagued the off season with fans unconvinced by Jack Ross’ credentials to guide us to promotion at the second time of asking, culminating in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Lincoln City. We were outplayed, out thought, out battled and outclassed by Lincoln – a team who weren’t even in the Football League two seasons ago.
It was the final straw for Ross as he was relieved of his duties on Tuesday. But amidst the chaos, reports surfaced of another takeover falling through on the club. So we now find ourselves rudderless and in limbo; 11 games into the season, sixth in the table some eight points adrift of leaders Ipswich Town, no manager, a serious lack of form, concerns over getting promoted and concerns over the financial future of the club.
Surely this is as low as it can get for us? Unfortunately, I won’t be counting my chickens. We are a club who has had to deal with scandals, players committing despicable crimes off the field, players refusing to play while they dine out on ludicrous wages, owners who have lost interest, CEO’s who haven’t a clue, relegations, embarrassing defeats and failed takeovers. Who knows where it will stop. In light of what has happened at both Bury and Bolton would you at all be surprised if we didn’t head that way? Just where do we bottom out?