Rivalry is an interesting thing and it can be born out of simplicity. In Football, it’s usually down to geography. We hate Newcastle because they’re nearby and visa versa. There are more reasons when you start to scratch the surface but location is the starting point. Some teams dislike each other because of hotly contested games from the past. For this, see Leeds United and pretty much everyone they came up against in the late 1960’s/early 70’s. Another reason is for such intensity is due to the fact that two teams often compete for the same honours and are giants in their fields, like Manchester United & Arsenal have famously displayed since the mid 1990’s.
In Sunderland’s case (away from their neighbours) their rivals have been whoever has dwelled down the bottom of the league with them. There have been sides who’ve occupied both sides of the Venn diagram, such as Newcastle last season and Middlesbrough this year, but usually the rivals have been the likes of Hull City, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City. They’re not teams who you’d usually look out for when the fixtures come out in the summer but come the following spring, these can often turn into hotly contested affairs. Last seasons clash at Carrow Road, where the away end went ballistic when Jermain Defoe put Sunderland 2-0 up just after half time, serves as good evidence of that.
Given that we’re now in Spring and Sunderland are in their usual mess, you’d be forgiven for looking for another temporary enemy. The likes of Hull & Middlesbrough would be in there, like they have been in the past, but Swansea & Crystal Palace would also be finding themselves in Mackem cross hairs. This time however, you may as well drop your weapon, as you’re all out of ammunition. All four of the teams directly above Sunderland have done something to give themselves a chance and it just makes their predicament all the more embarrassing.
You could say it’s admirable that Sunderland have stood by David Moyes in the name of stability. That would be foolish though and would be neglecting to look at the managers tactical decisions, team selection and, let’s not forget, a whole host of ridiculous comments to the media. In any other period of Sunderland’s recent history, this would have been the cue to part company with Moyes but because of other managers having to be shown the door in previous seasons, Moyes has fluked his way into the safest job in English football. Many believe he doesn’t deserve to be the man who oversees the Sunderland rebuilding job but it appears that he will be handed the task.
No other club in the relegation scrap has adopted such a defeatist attitude. Middlesbrough may not have performed particularly well since Aitor Karanka left the club but they were only heading in one direction with him at the helm. With Karanka gone, they at least gave themselves the opportunity to either A) find a replacement to galvanise the squad or B) let coach Steve Agnew take the reigns, in that hope that a dose of freedom may be the antidote.
Middlesbrough probably hoped to spark a revival in the same way Leicester City have, a team whose relegation fears feel like nothing but a fantasy. The Foxes are an example that makes Sunderland’s decision to put all their eggs in the Moyes basket all the more confusing. How can Leicester sack their manager who won them the title just under a year ago, when Sunderland are intent on keeping a man who has done nothing to earn more grace than the revered Claudio Ranieri?
I’m sure I don’t need to go into too much detail about Crystal Palace’s approach to trying to fend off Old Man Relegation. The Eagles have opted for option Allardyce, the route Sunderland went down last season, the route many supporters wanted the club to go down again in late 2016, and the similarities are startling. They started slowly, did some decent business in January and they’re hitting form at pretty much the exact same time Sunderland did. People wondered if Big Sam had lost his touch after his England debacle but, for the moment at least, Palace are making a good fist of beating the drop and the wily Allardyce isn’t looking like a bushed flush.
The way Swansea City looked to get themselves out of a deep hole couldn’t have been any more different to the team they overcame by five goals to four, back in November. After Francesco Guidolin’s inevitable departure, came the even less surprising sacking of Bob Bradley, followed by the refreshment of Paul Clement. Some outlets viewed Clement’s appointment as Swansea simply settling for The Championship, given the former Real Madrid & Bayern Munich coach had done a decent job at Derby County, until he was hastily sacked. The enthusiasm of Clement and his determination to make it as his own man has worked excellently though. He’s focused superbly on the teams strengths, mainly the force of Fernando Llorente & the creativity of Gylfi Sigurdsson, while mirroring his enthusiasm on young defenders such as Alfie Mawson. It’s crazy just how far you can go, if you have manager who is positive and has the demeanour of a person who actually wants to lead your club.
However that isn’t clear anywhere, as much as it is on Humberside. Since Marco Silva took the Hull hot seat, their form has been that of a top four side and they’re unbeaten at home under him. They’re just as chaotic as Sunderland are at boardroom level and have a squad that is, at best, on par with the one at David Moyes disposal. Has Silva moaned about such things though? Not really, he’s just got on with his job and tried everything he can to put the belief back into the players and the supporters. Hull fans may still be firmly against owner Assem Allam but they’re all with Silva. Even if they go down, they’ll have gone down with a fight and will be clamouring for the former Olympiacos manager to extent his stay, as he’s done everything he could to ensure The Tigers survival and got the fans enjoying games again.
Looking at all of the teams immediately above us is pretty depressing but none more so than Hull. I would give anything to be in their position just because they have a manager who they can believe in. Surely that’s a staple as a football supporter, believing in the man in charge? Something instilled when you first nail your colours to the mast? Granted, that belief may waver but that’s when you expect action to be taken. At Sunderland though, there’s no action. There’s not even hope. Just a vague assumption that sacking another manager won’t fix anything. I find that hard to believe, especially when the teams above us are proving that making a change is exactly what’s needed.
The likes of Swansea, Crystal Palace, Hull and Middlesbrough may be our rivals, in theory but they’ve all taken the action our club is afraid to. The teams above us have been far more bold, shrewd and calculated and its makes the decision to stand by David Moyes all the more unjustifiable.