Sunderland came so close to promotion last season. For much of the campaign it looked like they might go up automatically, and then they reached the playoff final, only to lose to Charlton.
But things have broadly speaking been on the slide for some time, which culminated in the club sacking Jack Ross on Tuesday.
Phil Smith of the Sunderland Echo joined the Totally Football League Show this week to explain why the decision to get rid of a manager who at one time had given the club great hope was made.
“I think supporters have probably felt for a little while it’s a decision that had to be made,” he said. “Jack started very well, he was a very popular figure, but performances started to drop at the end of last season. The playoff final was a massive missed opportunity, so coming into this season they had to get automatic promotion, and show early signs they had learned from their mistakes and improved the team.
“Unfortunately in the first eleven games, they’re doing OK but they’ve probably lost that confidence they can get to the top of the table.”
So who next? A return for Roy Keane?
“I would certainly welcome it as a journalist, for obvious reasons – he’s absolute dynamite! If Roy got the job, the wave of excitement would be incredible. I don’t think you can ever really understate what that first season, and most of the second season in the Premier League under Roy Keane was.
“Glamour was part of it, but the general sense of a club that was really having a go – ‘we’ve got Roy Keane at the helm.’
“But it kind of fits into a wider question of where Sunderland are at now, looking at the list of names: you mentioned Roy Keane, but there’s Daniel Stendel, Gareth Ainsworth, Phil Parkinson, Gary Rowett. These are all guys with hugely different backgrounds and hugely different styles of play, and what that tells you is this is a club which hasn’t quite worked out which direction it wants to go in.
“Does it want a short-termist, ‘let’s get out of this league whatever’ manager, or someone who is going to build over a period of time? I’m not sure that inside the club, they know the answer to that question yet.”
And then there’s the question of the on-off takeover saga, which seems to have been rumbling on for eons, with current owner Stewart Donald in talks with prospective new investors.
“It’s a very difficult one to unpack, but the simplest way to put it is the current owners have said they want to be involved in the day-to-day running of the club whatever, so you could argue they’re in the position to make this decision anyway.
“Either way, it’s been such a long-term thing: one of the first things Stewart Donald said when he took over was ‘if you’re thinking of competing with Man City, I’m not your guy.’ So it’s been a constant on-off, because there’s been a constant awareness that in the future some extra help is going to be needed.
“He’s insisted that he’s hopeful and things are ongoing, and he’s said that he’ll update the fans this weekend. That’s going to be a huge moment for the club.”
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