Phil Parkinson is the latest manager to take on the heavy challenge of trying to restore Sunderland to their former glory, but he told the Totally Football League Show that he thinks he can do it…
You would forgive any manager for baulking at the challenge of the Sunderland job.
Arguably only Sam Allardyce has managed to make any sense of them since Martin O’Neill left in 2013. That’s one permanent manager of the last eight who has been left flummoxed by a club has seemed to invite calamity over the last six or seven years. David Moyes, Gus Poyet, Simon Grayson and most recently Jack Ross have departed, all looking more ashen and broken
Phil Parkinson is the ninth, but he’s not a man you can accuse of taking easy jobs. Before Sunderland he was in charge of Bolton at the most traumatic period of their history, sticking around for much longer than most would and only leaving after most of their players departed and several months of not being paid.
You need to do your research before taking a job like that, and Parkinson took his time in figuring out if he could do it.
“I had some very open and honest chats with the owners,” the new Mackems boss told the Totally Football League Show. “I was pleased with what their assessment was and what they felt they needed. I had a few days with the existing staff who gave an insight into what things were like, and what their thoughts were.
“It’s a combination of watching the games yourself, building up your own knowledge, but then listening to everybody and taking everyone’s opinion to help make the right decisions.”
Both his predecessor Ross and current chairman Stewart Donald have been extremely open with the media, in both its traditional form and with fan podcasts like the Roker Rapport, so will Parkinson be doing as much talking?
“I think the most important thing I can do is win games and get the supporters onside [that way]. Sunderland fans have got an incredible passion for the club and we want to send them away from each game saying they’ve seen a really good performance, full of energy, commitment and desire, as well as lots of goalmouth action. We started off in good style last night.”
They did indeed. His first home game in charge was on Tuesday, and Sunderland ran out 5-0 winners over Tranmere, with the returning Duncan Watmore opening the scoring. Watmore has endured a nightmare couple of years with injury, but now he’s back with the first team Parkinson believes he’ll be key for the season ahead.
“He’s a player who makes runs in behind opposition defences,” said Parkinson, “and that’s something we need and something he did so well last night. We brought him off last night after 70 minutes to hopefully try to keep him fresh for the weekend. It’s great for him and his confidence to get a goal and an assist as well.”
“I have just been trying to address the balance in the team,” Parkinson continued, after being asked what his main priority was after walking through the door. “We’re a team who has a lot of the ball, but we need to be more effective with it, especially at home. We’ve got to make sure we’re penetrating the opposition back four, getting early crosses into the box like we did last night.
“We’ve also got to make sure we’re more solid defensively. When you’re attacking, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got players in place so you don’t get counter-attacked on. It’s just those little areas we’re looking at.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve had limited time on the training pitch to do it.”
The victory over Tranmere took Sunderland to seventh place, only outside the playoff spots on goal difference, but given how congested the top half of League One is (at the time of writing, a single point separates the six teams between fifth and tenth), that could all change quickly.
Still, they’re very much in touch with the promotion places, which leads to the big question: can Parkinson take Sunderland back into the Championship?
“I feel we’ve got a good chance, yeah,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good players, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to do everything we can to get this club back up where it belongs.”
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