When Doncaster scored in stoppage time to rescue a point on Saturday, it felt like it should have been a significant moment. The result saw Sunderland drop out of the play off places and took their recent record to just two wins in eight games in all competitions. Yes, we would have been level on points with fourth placed Portsmouth if we’d hung on for just one more minute and would have been just three points behind second with a game in hand. Yes, we should have had a penalty before we went 1-0 up, but if Gillingham had converted their spot-kick on Halloween and we hadn’t been awarded a hotly disputed penalty of our own against Ipswich, things could look a whole lot worse. The game was an almost perfect snapshot of Phil Parkinson’s reign so far, there was a period of excellence in the first half where we pressed Doncaster high up the pitch, kept the ball extremely well and played on the front foot. This is perhaps the most maddening aspect of his management, when it’s good, it has been very good indeed. Last season we were 3-0 up by half time on four separate occasions and against Tranmere, Wycombe and Lincoln we played with the swagger of a side destined for the automatic promotion places.
When it doesn’t go according to plan however, things seem to go bad in a catastrophic way, our current run of 2 wins in 8 looks positively brilliant in comparison to the 2 wins in 12 he picked up at the start of his managerial stint, a run that saw us plummet to 15th in the table. Of course, Saturday’s second half performance wasn’t so bad that it reminded us of that run of form, but it still had the baffling lack of substitutions, the stubbornness and the equally baffling post-match comments. Time and again Parkinson’s poor use of substitutions and lack of forward planning has cost us dearly. On Saturday it was obvious that Charlie Wyke was struggling to have much of an impact and the ball wasn’t sticking well up front, but he refused to make the glaringly obvious change. Despite having the luxury of being able to make five substitutes, he made just two, with the second coming in added time. Since he arrived at the club it’s difficult to think of a sub he’s made that has gained us points. Last season he made no changes for a vital clash with Portsmouth just three days after we played on a ploughed field at Tranmere.
His post-match comments understandably brought frustration from supporters when he suggested that we should be proud of the performance on the basis that Doncaster had enjoyed wins over Lincoln and Ipswich as if we were plucky underdogs in a relegation scrap. I don’t expect Parkinson to dig players out publicly and managers often go in to self-preservation mode but when you manage a team that has spent most of its history either in the top flight or battling to gain promotion back to it, you need to set high standards, something he’s failed to do from day one. From labelling a forthcoming clash with Burton Albion as a ‘must perform to the best of our ability game’ to claiming that he’d take a point at Gillingham all day long, he has often come across as failing to match the ambition of the fan base. With all that being said, I’m still not a fully paid up member of the Parkinson out club for one very simple reason, the ownership.
I one hundred percent welcome a change of both manager and ownership, but the current rumours do not inspire me with a huge amount of confidence. The last time we were linked with a takeover, I was sympathetic with people who wanted Jack Ross to leave because the potential new owners brought with them the scope to attract a much higher calibre of manager, but the reality this time around is somewhat different. Even if a deal is struck in the next few weeks it remains to be seen how much will actually change. Although it will be a takeover in name with the rumoured buyers taking a controlling stake of over 50%, the club will still have the fingerprints of Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori all over it.
The rumoured involvement of the latter worries me greatly, although he was lauded when he first got on board, he has done little but provide Madrox with an illusion of wealth. We still have next to no infrastructure at the club, after the departures of Paul Cook and Tony Coton we have an almost non existent recruitment setup and don’t have an Academy manager. We are also still without a Chairman after Donald stepped down in the summer. We may very well see new blood in those areas, but can we trust either a potential new owner in their 20s or Stewart Donald to make the right decisions in the club’s best interests? The night Jack Ross was dismissed, Donald went on BBC Radio Newcastle saying that Ross was not on track to guarantee promotion, just weeks later they appointed Phil Parkinson who had only been promoted from the third tier twice in 13 years.
For all the early talk of a 'Dortmund model' we are currently operating with a skeleton staff, a poor recruitment track record and a manager who personifies the falling in standards at the football club.
I don’t think Parkinson is the right man to take us forward but I very much see him as a symptom of the damage caused by the current owners as opposed to the sole problem. Until we see a big shift in culture at the club, a change in manager is unlikely to have the impact we are all so desperate for.