Our latest Durham Times column can be found below. This week’s coming from regular writer Craig Clark. This article was first published in the newspaper.
It would’ve been implausible to think that so soon after the summer of flowers and love, the idea of Dick Advocaat being removed from his post as Sunderland manager would become such a realistic possibility. That is where we’re at though, in the ever changing world of modern football.
Lose to a West Ham side with an excellent away record this season and it would not be at all surprising to see Advocaat walk or Ellis Short once again pull the trigger on a failing manager. Given the proximity of the season’s first derby and Newcastle’s similarly risible start, the chances of recent history repeating itself and Sunderland parting ways with yet another manager seem all the more likely.
Previous incumbents of the Stadium of Light hot seat have had to be paid off by the millions, sat as they were on lucrative, lengthy contracts. Advocaat’s one year deal is being chewed away at by the defeat and Short does not seem the type of man to be swayed by sentiment given his previous record of wielding the axe.
Of course, it’s always possible that Advocaat, who must take his share of the blame for Sunderland’s kamikaze defensive displays, will shore up the back line, put the handbrake on his full backs and tighten his midfield up. He’s an experienced manager and, whilst he likes his sides to play expansive football, he must be able to see that a tactical shift would at least give the team a chance of not conceding two to three goals a game.
If we continue in the same vein we’ve started, then there’s little chance of victory or even a draw. It’s not possible to start each game with the very real prospect of conceding at least twice and expecting to get something from it. It’s beyond parody now.
I’ve mentioned it several times on the podcast and in print and I’ll continue to do so until things change; Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones, whilst performing poorly as individuals, are doing so because their confidence has been shattered by a team that simply offers them no support. When you’re a full back, isolated against two players, week in, week out, then it’s only natural that your performance level will plummet.
Similarly, a midfield containing Ola Toivonen, might as well be described as “two man” so little does he offer going backwards. With Jeremain Lens also looking completely disinterested when his team is without the ball, Sunderland often look closer to 4-2-4 than 4-3-3. If neither player wants to work hard, then take them out of the team. We’re bottom of the league, there’s no place for anything other than 100% commitment. Hard work, graft and a back to basics approach are required.
Will Advocaat be the man to implement such a style of play? He showed an inclination to do so when he salvaged Sunderland’s Premier League status at the back end of last season. If he doesn’t replicate that starting on Saturday, then there’s a good chance he won’t be offered the opportunity to try again.