The Stadium of Light is fast becoming The Stadium of Plight – and there seems to be nothing anyone can do about it. It’s been a long time since anyone smiled on Wearside.
This week’s latest episode has left Sunderland searching for their eighth manager in under five years. The wheels have well and truly come off. In the space of four years covering The Black Cats’ fortunes I’ve seen off messrs Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat, Allardyce, Moyes and now Simon Grayson. Four years!
Each one has tried to lift a club on the slide, with only Allardyce really emerging with any credit. Sunderland long ago became a graveyard for managers. Who chief executive Martin Bain turns to next having sacked Grayson after just one Championship win in 15 matches is anyone’s guess. Who is brave enough to take on the poisoned chalice?
Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes must look back at his U-turn in August as the best decision he has made as a manager. Because right now Sunderland look as though nobody can save them. No wins at home for almost a full calendar year, they have only led in a match at The Stadium of Light for three minutes since their last win against Watford on December 17, 2016.
Bain has worked flat out with his hands tied behind his back in an attempt to balance the books. But at a club close to £140m in debt it’s a thankless task. He’ll never be able to save enough now that owner Ellis Short has cut off the financial supply chain.
Sunderland are still paying the price for the shocking mismanagement that was allowed to continue for years. When they needed a bounce after relegation to the Championship, Grayson was only given £1.25m to spend in the summer transfer window – despite Bain working wonders to rake in £32m for their goalkeeping duo Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone.
Indeed it’s my understanding Short has moved back to the USA from London, leaving Bain with no other guidance than continue to cut. He’s not expecting a penny to spend in January. Hardly alluring for any would-be boss.
Only a few hundred fans turned up for the club’s half-term open day last week. You had to feel sorry for the staff who had pulled out the stops to make it a day to remember.
Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship game between Sunderland and Bolton
One glance at the near-empty stands quickly made it a day to forget. It was yet another example of a football club disconnected to its support. Attendances are dwindling at a rapid rate – it’s becoming a chore for the Sunderland fans to pull out their red and white scarves and go to watch their side.
What they need is to smile again. Even in the short term, a smile would be a great start in lifting the gloom. Both Poyet and Moyes have told reporters they’ve sensed something beneath the surface at the club. Something that’s holding them back from progressing both on and off the field.
“It’s hard to explain but there’s a way of life, something deep down, that makes it difficult to fulfil its potential,” said Poyet three years ago. “If I knew what it was I’d say but it’s there and it needs to be dealt with at the root.”
M’boro vs S’land
November 5, 2017, 11:45am
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The club have intimated they are looking for someone with experience, a manager who knows what it’s like to battle at the foot of the table. The problem is they’ll have to look to out-of-work managers, because they’ll struggle to find someone with the relevant experience willing to leave their job to take over the reigns on Wearside.
The fans I have spoken to say they want a Sunderland man, someone who knows what it means to wear the famous red and white.
Peter Reid has been mentioned, while current captain John O’Shea leads the betting. Aitor Karanka is local but would demand financial muscle. Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay will take charge of Sunday’s Tees-Wear derby at Middlesbrough, but they’re unlikely to be considered unless they travel back up the A19 with three points in the bag.
But one man who has both a smile as wide as the Wear – and crucially has played for Sunderland – is Ally McCoist. The former Rangers manager has been out of work for three years and is desperate to get back in. What he would do in the short term is bring some character to the table and a smile to the training ground.
You can expect the likes of Paul Lambert and Alex McLeish to also feature in Bain’s thinking, but McCoist would almost certainly give a depressed squad a kick. He’s still a fan of the cub and has kept the season tickets he first bought when he signed for the club as a fresh-faced teenager in 1981. Fans may see that as an old friends act by Bain, but he ticks a number of boxes and will give the place a lift.
But it’s not ALL bad. This is a squad that should be challenging in the top half of the Championship. In Lewis Grabban and Aiden McGeady they have two of the league’s best attacking players, and scoring goals hasn’t been a problem.
Their back four against Bolton on Tuesday were all full internationals, and in Lee Cattermole, Calum McManaman, Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair they have a clutch of players who can do a job in the Premier League.
Michael Gray says he can envisage back-to-back relegations for Sunderland, following Simon Grayson's sacking as manager
The players said they liked Grayson and were unhappy to see him sacked on Tuesday, just 15 minutes after their 3-3 draw against bottom side Bolton. Well if they did, they had a strange way of showing it. That wasn’t a side playing for their manager.
The biggest issue of late has been confidence and McCoist would give them that. Bain has already got two managerial appointments wrong and it’s imperative he gets this one right. Otherwise League One awaits, and then they really would be doomed.
Don’t miss the Sky Bet Championship clash between Middlesbrough and Sunderland, live on Sky Sports Football from 11.45am on Sunday