If one thing remained consistent for Lee Johnson’s Sunderland, it was inconsistency. It certainly was not the team’s performances or their mental/physical resilience. Unfortunately, these all fluctuated wildly from game to game. Markedly far too often for automatic promotion to be assured, this season or indeed any season, while he remained in charge.
Of course, mathematics and the league table said otherwise. But eyes and indeed recent history revealed a more sombre and cautionary tale.
Nothing observed since 5th December 2020 following his arrival on Wearside and absolutely zilch from Johnson’s previous managerial CV – over a sustained period – suggested he was capable of delivering what Sunderland needed in the short, medium or long term.
The last five games tell you everything about Sunderland under Johnson – wilting in the face of adversity and incapable of learning lessons.
There have been far too many draws from all but certain victory. And too often defeat when three points were essential.
Yet, even when we avoid focusing in on the minutiae of a shorter run of games and instead zoom out to look at performances over a longer period, we were left in no doubt. The club’s forward trajectory was at best infinitesimal and at worst stagnant.
Let us not forget, last season, Johnson steered us away from automatic places with a fatal run of one win, three draws and four defeats, or 0.75 points per game. The streaky reputation that reached saturation point was real. It follows him around because unfortunately Johnson is incapable of shaking it off. Even when operating in a lower league, even when absorbed solely with coaching instead of being manager. His inability to find a recipe for sustained success in his career continues to be damning.
Once this truth crystallised, there was nothing left of his tenure here other than blind faith. For if we were to pertinently ask, what is it about Lee Johnson’s career thus far that says the Black Cats could be confident of promotion under his stewardship, many would surely have been left unable to offer any answer, other than – ‘hope’.
‘Hope’ has of course been a regular companion for Sunderland supporters over the years. Yet, given four straight seasons in the third tier of English football the club needs more to succeed. If we have learned anything from the Black Cats’ failings of the past it is that there is a necessity to rely on something more tangible.
Indeed, following the much-heralded modern approach now embedded at SR5 under Louis-Dreyfus, it would be interesting to see where the club’s own predictive analysis for data-driven decision making felt we were headed under Johnson. If we can increase the chance of signing a player who will be a success utilising these methods, why were we not able to applying the same predictive principles to assess the head coach’s future? Perhaps we did.
But, crunch the numbers any way you like, the end result would be the same. And though for many it would not yield surprises, Johnson thought otherwise. On the back of the weekend’s drubbing by Bolton Wanders he remarked, “It’s a big shock to me this performance”.
Look at the earlier heavy away defeats such as the 5-1, 4-0 and the 3-0 to understand that the weekend’s 6-0 was not so much a shock but something implicit in sides led by Johnson. This past nearly sixteen months belies the fact that under his stewardship the club had a fragility, which was too often exposed. If that is not evident to a head coach who sees the playing squad daily, then perhaps matters were worse than we feared.
In the wake of dismissal, Johnson will likely offer mitigation for the club’s woes. Injuries once again have taken their toll, the home pitch is nothing short of an embarrassment and with hours remaining of the transfer window the recruitment team have yet to address many of the issues hanging over from the summer. There would be substance to some of this in fairness. However, if matters on the periphery have not always been ideal, it is Johnson who appeared only too adept at making them worse.
To summarise, for all of the positive displays, the fluid passing and the slick performances we have enjoyed at times, it is dramatic how quickly decline followed. A brittleness that sees confidence lurch from the highs of Sheffield Wednesday at home to the spirit zapping lows of the weekend’s capitulation.
Sacking Johnson was not a reaction to one bad result alone. Evidence tells us there was more to it. To continue with the status quo would have been to accept a reality that feels frankly unacceptable. Something had to give. And being truthful, we always knew what that something was.