Sunderland AFC have parted ways with Martin O’Neill as they suffered from the 14th defeat of the season at the hands of Manchester United.
But the question remains – is it too late? With only seven games left in the season, his successor might not have the time he requires to redeem their season as they face a scrappy relegation battle. The club put up another disappointing performance against Manchester United yesterday at the Stadium of lights as they lost 1-0 to the league leaders.
Very few fans would have expected Sunderland to get something out of this fixture at the start of the game, but it is the manner in which they lost which must be hurting the fans the most. The team failed to turn up in the first half of the match, and despite putting up a relatively better display in the second half, they never really troubled United. In fact Sir Alex’s team cruised through the match in what was an ‘efficient’ display – getting the three points that were required; nothing more, nothing less.
Although one can point out that the goal scored against Sunderland was a fortuitous one, the result was nothing more than what Sunderland’s performance deserved. Here is a team which is battling for its survival in the Premier League, a team which perhaps has one of the strongest squad among the teams in the bottom half of the table, and yet there is a clear lack of quality, application and most importantly a lack of desire. Some of players in the starting eleven against Manchester United seemed to have accepted the fact that the club will be relegated this season – far from the attitude you would expect from a player wearing the famous red and white striker.
Ellis Short has finally seemed enough of Martin O’Neill and the Irishman was shown the door. The club released an official statement, which read –
“Sunderland AFC has announced that it has parted company with manager Martin O’Neill this evening.
“The club would like to place on record its thanks to Martin and wishes him well for the future. An announcement will be made in the coming days regarding a successor.”
Although it comes hardly as a surprise, one wonders whether it is too late now, like Reading’s decision to fire their manager earlier this month. Martin O’Neill on his part will have to take much of the blame for Sunderland’s current fate. There are various factors which have affected Sunderland’s current season, because on paper, this squad is strong enough for a mid-table finish, far from where they find themselves now.
The Irishman’s lack of tactical know-how was at the forefront once again this season. He picked a formation and tried to fit in the players in that system, whereas it should have been the other way around. A manager constructs a system based on the strength of his squad, but Martin O’Neill seemed unwilling to move out of his tactical comfort zone.
Question marks must also be raised about the club’s transfer activity in the winter transfer window. The reason for Graham’s signing is largely unknown, what does the former Swansea man provide to the team which is different to Steven Fletcher? These two strikers are so similar that they can’t fit into the same team, yet Martin O’Neill tried to play them together upfront and changed to 4-4-2 formation, with someone like Larsson starting in a two man midfield – it was never meant to work. This tactical naivety cost them crucial matches against QPR and Norwich – matches which you would have expected them to win at this stage of the season.
Even in the match against Manchester United yesterday he put out a questionable line-up. Philip Bardsley shouldn’t have started as the right back. Gardner was brilliant in that role against Norwich and should have continued in that role. Jack Colback has impressed whenever he has got the opportunity to play in the midfield; he should have started alongside N’Diaye.
In fact Sunderland’s problems was not with finishing an opportunity, their main problem this season has been creating an opportunity. Shouldn’t the money, they spent on Graham, been invested on a creative midfielder during the January transfer window?
To be fair to Martin O’Neill, it must also be mentioned that the big players haven’t delivered this season. Players like Johnson, McClain and Larsson have failed to live up to the expectations, while Sessegnon has been consistently inconsistent. It is a cause for worry, that a player on loan, Danny Rose has perhaps been their best performer (apart from Fletcher). Injuries have played their role as well with critical members of the team missing chunks of the season.
It would be interesting to see how much of these things can Martin O’Neill’s successor turns around. To start with, he doesn’t have the easiest of fixtures to look forward to. Out of the remaining seven games they face the likes of Chelsea, Everton and Tottenham – three matches they are unlikely to get something from. The remainder of the matches are mostly against fellow relegation strugglers, which can be considered as an advantage as they will be able to control the outcome of their fate in the Premier League along with the fate of these teams.
But perhaps the biggest test that the new manager will face is the need to motivate his team and restore some confidence and pride into the squad. At the moment Roberto Di Matteo, Steve McClaren and Mark Hughes are the favourites to land the job at Sunderland.