As the boos rang around the Stadium of Light after Sunderland’s demoralising defeat against QPR, questions were again asked of manager Gus Poyet. The fans have every right to be frustrated, however I feel sacking Poyet would represent a huge mistake in the long term future of the club.
This is not to say that Poyet is beyond reproach. Tuesday’s home defeat at QPR was a huge comedown after the momentum generated from recent good results against Burnley, Fulham and Swansea. Defensively the team lacked shape and for the first half hour Sunderland failed to significantly test Rob Green in the QPR goal and although he made number of impressive saves kept The Black Cats at bay in the second half, their performance still left a lot to be desired. This continues a worrying trend of uninspiring home performances, with just two victories coming at the Stadium of Light all season.
Even more bizarre is Poyet’s attitude towards the fans in recent weeks. After numerous sell outs away from home and crowds at home averaging in excess of 40,000 you might have thought the Head Coach would be quick to praise the supporters for their patience and for sticking by the club. Instead he has made a series of ill-advised media comments regarding the supporters, including claims that the supporters are “living in the past” and would prefer to see Sunderland play kick and rush style football.
Although some of these quotes have been taken out of context in the media, the last thing that Sunderland fans want to hear after witnessing a mere seven league home wins under Poyet, is that they are in any way to blame for the club’s plight. In fact, in comparison to most clubs, the supporters have remained very calm and patient throughout this run of form. Of course there has been frustration, but after such a poor return even Ghandi would have punched someone by now.
Despite these factors however, the club can ill-afford to make yet another change of manager. The first, crucial point to remember is that the situation, although not ideal is nowhere a disaster as things stand. Sunderland currently sit outside the relegation zone and still have the majority of the bottom half of the league to play at home. Although Poyet has struggled to get results against the teams around us at the Stadium of Light, he still has done enough as Sunderland Head Coach to have earned the opportunity to attempt to address this sequence.
The defeat against Queen’s Park Rangers was frustrating for everyone connected with the club but that performance was the exception to the recent rule. Since Jermain Defoe arrived from Toronto, there has been a general improvement.
At top four challengers Tottenham we can consider ourselves unfortunate not to have gained at least a point, with Stephen Fletcher missing a first half sitter and Danny Graham unlucky not to put The Wearsider’s ahead just before Spurs grabbed the winner.
This was followed up by good performances against Burnley, Fulham and Swansea, so pressing the panic button is a little premature as things stand, especially with West Brom and Aston Villa both to play at home in the coming weeks.
General criticism of Gus Poyet has also been a little harsh. Last season he inherited an unbalanced squad with confidence and self-belief at rock bottom from Paolo Di Canio and managed not only to keep the team in the division but also reach the Capital One Cup final and beat Newcastle twice.
Another tag Poyet has been labelled with is that he “lacks a plan b.” This criticism is particularly harsh, when he took over at the club he stated that he would “do whatever it takes” to keep Sunderland in the Premier League and he did just that.
When he initially took over, he played a conventional 4-4-2 against Newcastle which yielded a superb 2-1 victory, the performance wasn’t brilliant but it got that vital first win. Then starting with a seemingly low-key fixture at home to Southampton in the Captital One Cup he experimented with his preferred style of possession based football, he continued to implement this system gradually over the coming months.
When this style of play stopped producing results, he tried playing a 3-5-2 system. This, although unsuccessful, proved he could try different systems and formations. Eventually he reverted back to his preferred style of play and this, combined with Connor Wickham’s goals kept Sunderland in the top flight.
Even this season, where he has been accused of being stubborn, he has proven with the signing of Jermain Defoe and subsequent change in tactics that he is prepared to sacrifice his principles in order to try and gain results.
Perhaps, most importantly, if Poyet was to be sacked, who would we replace him with? When Newcastle were searching for a new manger there was much amusement on Wearside at the lack of decent available candidates. These candidates would be the exact same ones that Sunderland would have realistic chance of attracting to the Stadium of Light.
Every recent Sunderland sacking had rationale behind it and been perfectly justifiable in isolation. However, long term results have shown that Sunderland can ill afford to keep chopping and changing managers.
“The new manager” bounce is unsustainable in the long term and Gus Poyet is the first manager for many years who has a clear way of playing and must be given the time to fully implement his style.
Albert Einstein once said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is why ,despite Poyet’s shortcomings, it is essential that Sunderland don’t panic and pull the trigger.