Saturday, 30 March 2013

Have Sunderland really improved under O'Neill?

Failure to beat the 10 men of Norwich last weekend has ensured Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland really are in a relegation fight.

A combination of dull football, lack of goals and without a win since the 19th January is far from the recipe for success. When you throw into the mix season ending injuries to both Steven Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole, survival really is in doubt.

O’Neill’s appointment in December 2011 was the catalyst behind an incredible rise from 17th to the top half of the Premier League. The feat was made all the more impressive given the fact it was achieved in just two short months. However since then the club have struggled and have won just seven of their last 38 Premier League games. Meaning should the season have started at the time of Sunderland’s decline, they would have been relegated.

Home matches against Manchester United and Everton are sandwiched with trips Chelsea and local rivals Newcastle, a daunting fixture list for any side! After these four games Sunderland, in all likelihood will find themselves below the dreaded relegation line, which beggars the question, have they really improved under O’Neill?

The sales of Darren Bent and Jordan Henderson severely hampered former manager Steve Bruce. And although numerous faces came through the Stadium of Light doors, not many commanded a high transfer fee. Despite a poor start to the season, Bruce deserved more time, with the high turnover of players always ensuring developing his side that season would take time.

It took Sunderland 18 months to really replace Bent

The people’s choice was then appointed in the form of the O’Neill, who supported the club as a boy. In the short-term it worked, Sunderland were never in any danger of going down.

However this was the season Sunderland were supposed to kick-on, which evidently they haven’t. Big name and money signings arrived in the form of Adam Johnson and Fletcher, meaning expectation levels at The Stadium of Light were high. Whilst Fletcher has done the business for the Black Cats, scoring a third of the clubs Premier League goals, his fellow capture hasn't done so well.

Johnson promised much and given frequent game time, many expected him to flourish at Sunderland. Yet inconsistency has blighted his season, a theme common amongst young British wingers.

O’Neill has struggled to address Sunderland’s real problems in the three transfer window’s available to him. The sale of Michael Turner to Norwich was strange. Turner is a solid if not spectacular Premier League centre half. Yet the injury prone Wes Brown is yet to feature this season, whilst the likes of Carlos Cuellar and Titus Bramble have proven to be inconsistent at best. 

Turner has helped Norwich keep nine Premier League clean sheets

The lack of a real creative playmaker has heavily exposed how unimaginative the Sunderland midfield is. Stephane Sessengon has the ability to be this, however similar to Johnson, a real lack of consistency has blighted his season. Having seen Sunderland a few times this season, I can assure you they aren’t the most pleasing on the eye. It’s not that they play long football, but their inability to string a succession of passes together is all too obvious. 

With just eight games remaining, Sunderland are only four points clear of Wigan in 18th, who also have a game in hand of the Mackems!

You only need to read O’Neill’s CV to see he’s a very good manager. However for some reason it’s not working at Sunderland at the moment. Neil Warnock once said it was harder to manage a club you supported and maybe that’s proving the case for O’Neill. 

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