Discussion: Should Sunderland call time on Lee Johnson’s reign?

Sunderland have only won one in the last eight matches, and Tuesday night's 1-1 draw at ten-man Shrewsbury has prompted many fans to call for Lee Johnson's head - we discuss the merits of making a change
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For many people, Tuesday night was the last straw as Sunderland failed to beat an injury-hit Shrewsbury who played for 45 minutes with ten men. With Lee Johnson’s future on Wearside under further scrutiny after a poor run of fixtures, we asked three of the Wise Men Say writers for their opinion.

Stephen Kennedy

There’s always a point where the feeling changes for a manager, it can be as extreme as Bruce’s Wigan debacle, or a whimper of a display against a side we really should be beating, see Simon Grayson vs Bolton. Unfortunately, limping to draw against a poor, ten-man Shrewsbury side means that we’ve reached that stage with Johnson, given that it follows a run of one win in eight games in all competitions.

Putting aside the nonsense spoken about our support in recent weeks, it is true that there is a level of expectation for Sunderland in League One that is much higher than other clubs. We can be as tongue-in-cheek about the difference in stature of SAFC to some of the clubs in this division, but there is credibility to it, if you compare history, stadium, fanbase, monetary backing (the list goes on), Sunderland should not be in the same division as the Crewe and Shrewsbury. We can accept that that’s where we are, but not that we should be floundering anywhere below second in the table.

While not helped by injuries, Johnson has lost his way tactically and motivationally and, worst of all, he appears shell shocked with every interview given. Things started well, but the season is in jeopardy, and we simply cannot be in this division another year. For me, his time is up, and if things really have changed in philosophy and approach at the club, we should already have someone lined up to step in.

Graeme Atkinson

There are lessons that can be learned from every difficult period in football, right? Kyril Louis-Dreyfus can point to Johnson’s impressive win percentage in all competitions as a starter for ten. At the 56.3% mark it’s a record certainly as good as any Sunderland manager in recent times. (Parkinson 39.6% and Jack Ross 52.0%)

However, it is League One where Sunderland’s focus must be laser like. So, looking at the related PPG data while we have been in the third tier, it reads slightly less impressively for the current incumbent. In respect of points per game, Jack Ross remains on top with 1.82. Johnson drops to 1.73 in his nearly 12-month tenure and Parky sits on 1.66.

‘We cannot keep sacking managers in hope of quick fixes’ though, you may exclaim. One positive of the new ownership group has been to create a Sporting Director model, which of course means that any change in head coach should not result in a ripping up of the club’s new blueprint. That does seem to quash that argument does it not?

Escape from the third division purgatory is essential for a club this size. Every season we’re languish here feels like a gut punch. That’s the reality. For the Black Cats it is simply unacceptable. The pressure on the club now, rightly or wrongly, derives from this miserable fact – we are still here in the Third Division after all this time.

Johnson has to take ownership of his own failed promises. It’s interesting to note he often remarks about ‘lessons will be learned’, after poor performances in particular going right back to his Oldham days.

Are there any examples of Johnson learning these fabled lessons? No, dear reader there are not. As a result, perhaps it is time Sunderland and Johnson parted ways. It certainly feels a long way back from here.

Jim Reay

Something’s gotta give.

While Sunderland may still lie within easy reach of an automatic promotion place at present, last night’s point at Shrewsbury was yet another performance which indicates that the trajectory of this side in its current guise is heading in the opposite direction.

We currently lie 16th in the six-game League One form table, with Saturday’s hard-fought but certainly questionable (and possibly fortuitous?) home win over Ipswich Town being our only maximum inside the past month. There is no way this is anywhere close to being either good enough for automatic promotion, or what anyone should have to deem acceptable for Sunderland at this level.

Now I am generally positive to a fault when it comes to Sunderland, and still believe we can and should get promoted this season. BUT, it would be ignorant burying of my head in the sand to try to paint this as anything other than what it is: a huge crossroads for both this side and it’s Head Coach.

While Lee Johnson presided over an excellent start to the season, there is no getting away from the alarming slump that followed (maybe is still following? Let’s wait and see on that one), and that this was the second major slump of his tenure as Head Coach (remember the end of last season anyone?).

Now, to me at least, that is concerning.

When you factor in that he has yet to achieve a promotion in his managerial career; and that these streaks and inexplicable and long-lasting dips in form were warned of by Bristol City fans when we appointed, him alarm bells certainly start to ring.

I am not categorically saying he has to go – he is a young(ish) manager who seems to have a good handle on certain aspects of the role, but he is going to have to drastically improve results and (arguably more importantly for long-term assurance) performances incredibly quickly if he is to turn this round himself.

Put it this way, things have to change this season if we are to get promoted, and this needs to happen with or without Lee Johnson being Head Coach. His recent run of bizarre post-match comments and very questionable in-game management point to a man struggling and who does not know what he needs to do to arrest the slide. Quite simply, we can’t afford too much more time for him to figure this out.

The behind scenes structure exists so that changes of Head Coach can happen without everything being ripped up, and we have a number of clearly talented players here. Getting this side promoted should not be beyond a competent manager. Whether it’s beyond Lee Johnson is looking like a question with a very different answer to what I thought it would be a month ago, but nonetheless is one which the board need to be asking themselves at this point.

It is not Lee Johnson AFC, it’s Sunderland AFC. Promotion is what matters, and whichever course of action gives us the best chance of achieving that is the one we have to take.