When Roy Keane walked out of the Stadium of Light back in December, they had 15 points from 15 games. He’d become exasperated as his expensively recruited side simply hadn’t gelled as quickly as he’d hoped and felt he couldn’t inspire them from the insipid performances they’d shown, especially in his last game in charge, the 4-1 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers.
Yet, when the dust settled it seemed it was board member Ellis Short that seemed to have got under Keane’s skin, as he questioned his tactics and signings, which having funded his Summer extravagance, you would feel he was right to do. Perhaps being American, he was not under the spell of Keane as much as some in the UK but I’ve yet to meet another manager that has his club send letters to forthcoming opponents advising them of rules regarding Keane. The Championship will be delighted with the return of someone who refuses pictures to be taken in the same room as him, regardless if he’s in shot or not, no autographs under any circumstances or for club staff not to speak to him unless spoken to.Delightful.
Once Keane had walked away from Sunderland, Ricky Sbragia was named as the Caretaker Manager for a four game period that saw the Black Cats garner 7 points and the players seemed 100% behind the new regime. So much so that the Sunderland Chairman, Niall Quinn, rewarded him with an 18 month contract to become the new manager of Sunderland and things were looking rosy in SR5.
Fast forward to the end of April, Sunderland have just been routed by West Bromich Albion 3-0 at the Hawthorns as The Baggies gave the best display of the season against a disinterested, dispirited bunch of players in red and white stripes. The only thing missing was Keane back on the bench snarling and staring at the pitch. It was a concerning performance, a performance that will be given the Mackems sleepless nights this weekend, it was the performance of a team in real trouble.
The one benefit for Sunderland is that they’re still out of the bottom 3, regardless of Newcastle’s result tomorrow night. With 4 games to go, they can still save themselves from the ignominy of relegation but they need a win. Any kind of win, but they need one and fast but it’s not the easiest run in they could have had. Two home games against the cup finalists Everton, on May 3rd and Chelsea on the final day book end two tough away trips against Bolton and Portsmouth.
The team seem to have fallen back into the bad habits and lacklustre displays of Keane’s tenure that saw him walk away back in December. Can they really survive without picking up any further points, regardless of how poor Newcastle, Hull, Middlesbrough and West Brom have been playing. To hope that none of the four sides below them pick up any points between now and May 24th would be suicidal at best.Their rivals though hardly have it any easier:
Middlesbrough: Home to Manchester United, Away at Newcastle, Home to Aston Villa, Away at West Ham United.
Newcastle: Portsmouth at Home, Liverpool Away, Home to Middlesbrough & Fulham and then travel to Aston Villa.
West Brom: Spurs Away, Wigan and Liverpool at Home and finish with a trip to Blackburn
Hull City have Villa away a week on Monday, Home to Stoke City, Away at Bolton and finish with Manchester United at Home.
Sbragia needs to try and rectify something in the next few days because they cannot gamble on the teams below them not gaining any points. We only have to look at Fulham last season, relegated with 30 minutes to go at Manchester City, they recovered and won their last 3 games to save themselves and condemn Reading to fall through the trapdoor on goal difference.
The side seems so short of confidence but when you look at the side, they’ve probably got the best squad in the bottom 5 by some way. Yet, whilst Jones and Cisse seem to getting the flack of not getting the goals, the rest of Sunderland’s squad have chipped in with 11 goals between them all season. Yes, 11. Cisse and Jones have 18 in the league so far, but the rest of the team simply aren’t weighing in to help out and for them to have any chance of survival, the rest of the squad have to stand up and be counted.
The Black Cats are going to need more than luck and other teams to stay up.