Martin O’Neill has been in charge for twelve months now and Salut! Sunderland contributors have their own thoughts on the success or otherwise of the Ulsterman’s time at the helm. Malcolm Dawson looks at what is going wrong, argues that a rethink is necessary and weighs up the O’Neill In/Out arguments …
Time for Change?
There is no doubt the start to this season has been yet another chapter of unfulfilled expectation that seems to be the lot of the Sunderland fan.
It is coming up to 50 years now since I saw my first game at Roker Park and in that time the disappointments have far outweighed the glorious times. It is 20 years since we reached the FA Cup final and coming up to twice that since we had our hands on a major trophy.
In recent years, the best times we have seen were those when we were challenging for promotion and two seasons under Peter Reid when we finished seventh and, for a time, looked like we might even climb higher.
We can find several reasons why, in between times, we have had to put up with some utter dross. But this season was supposed to be different, wasn’t it? We have the man we had been crying out for in charge. We brought in a flair player in Adam Johnson and two proven Premier League goalscorers in Fletcher and Saha. Things were looking rosy so what’s gone wrong?
There are plenty of people posting their views on certain players. Colback comes in for a lot of stick for his negative approach. Johnson is criticised for not being the match winner we hoped he would be. Larsson, Sessegnon, McClean are not firing on all cylinders and the talk is about spending big in January if we are to get out of this mess. There are the beginnings of discontent with O’Neill and already names are being bandied about as possible replacements.
Well I suggest that that neither is the answer.
The popular view is that our current squad is neither large enough, nor good enough to get us into the top half. I disagree. I’m not going to dispute that signing a few quality players would strengthen the squad as that is obvious, but I would argue that we already have the players to get us out of the dogfight and into the top 10. I’m not going to say we are in a false position and it will all come good either. Results don’t lie. But in my eyes the problem is one of approach.
I’m not calling for O’Neill to go … yet. I still think he can turn things around. Of course I’m not an ex-international footballer, I haven’t played under Brian Clough, nor managed Shepshed Charterhouse and Glasgow Celtic, but I see the way the manager sets up his team and the style of play he wants them to adopt as the problem.
There was someone on this site a while back who, defending the MON approach, asked if we wanted to see the team lose 4-5 every game. Of course I don’t want to see us get beaten but I’d rather see us lose 5-4 when we have posed the opposition problems and given ourselves a chance of winning than watch a team sit back and concede without threatening to get in the opposing penalty area. Let’s take a few snapshots of the season so far to illustrate my point.
Wigan – we won but only after almost conceding early on, after the Latics had a player sent off and after a wayward shot became a perfect ball for Fletcher to latch onto and tuck away as a proven striker should. Apart from that we never looked like a threat to a mid-table side with a player short.
Newcastle – we got a point but only after they were reduced to 10 men and a lucky deflection off an opponent found the back of the net. Apart from that we looked more likely to lose than win.
Aston Villa. A poor side beat us at home. Did we look like an attacking force? As the game wore on an increasingly desperate manager took off defenders and threw on players who ought to have been more attack minded. It didn’t work and I never thought we’d score.
West Brom, Fulham and Norwich. In those games we started slowly and began to look good in the second half but in two of those games it was only after we went two-nil down, too late to engineer even a point. In the other it took another sending off to galvanise the team and even then we allowed an equaliser before sealing the win.
So when have we looked like a threat? My answer is when we are attack minded and have been chasing the game. Apart from the Arsenal game I have never felt convinced we wouldn’t concede but in almost every game, including those against bottom club QPR and Championship Middlesbrough, I never thought we’d score.
As I said I’m not in favour of O’Neill going yet, either of his own volition or his being forced out. The club needs stability and any manager needs time but I fear unless we see a change of tactics the Arsenal fans who said we were in for a boring time and the Villa fans who said MON’s stubbornness will not take the club to the heights we crave will be proved right.
* Malcolm Dawson is the deputy editor of Salut! Sunderland. if you believe you can sum up Martin O’Neill’s year as well or better, or just differently, this is your chance. Do so as a comment below or by writing your own article and sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org
*** See the full O’Neill One Year On series at this link: http://salutsunderland.com/category/martin-oneill-one-year-on/
And Monsieur Salut has become very gloomy: read his latest contribution on the ESPN blog http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/710?cc=5739