By Neil Corner
On the dawn of the home game at the Stadium of Light against visitors Rotherham, Sunderland have got their man, Tony Mowbray. Unlike the drawn out affair of selecting a replacement for Lee Johnson, when Alex Neil arrived following the public courting of Roy Keane, it has taken just a matter of days. This only makes me wonder even more, how long has the lack of trust between Alex Neil and the club been going on?! Why did he insist on the clause allowing him to speak to other clubs but more importantly, why did the club allow it!
Having had time to reflect on Alex Neil’s departure and watching over his first interview at Stoke, I personally do not buy into this all being a footballing decision. Neil knew the direction the club wanted to go in with regards to recruitment and happily signed a new deal just four weeks ago. Why sign a new deal if you did not feel backed, an argument I have seen many Sunderland fans aim at the owners. The fact of the matter is, the club are following a new model following precious seasons of failure in signings and ultimately failing to deliver on the pitch to get us out of League 1 quicker. If this is the level of loyalty and ambition Alex Neil wants to show, then good luck to him, it would only have been a matter of time before he walked away and for me it is better that it happened early on.
Sunderland need loyalty, desire, a gritted determination to turn around the clubs fortunes after so long in a league we felt trapped in. I thought Alex Neil was delivering that, however, I will be the first to admit his appointment did not fill me with optimism (I was wrong). He delivered what the club needed, let’s be grateful to be out of that league and let’s move on from all of this recent drama and negativity.
So as the dust finally begins to settle after the bombshell of the past few days, Sunderland found themselves linked with a number of names once again. Some were high profile, some new names who are believed to be up and coming coaches. In an unexpected twist, just the day after the news had broke that a new manager hunt would be needed, Sunderland were linked with Tony Mowbray who was named a frontrunner by Sky Sports. Mowbray again is a manager who I did not think the club would be looking at, I did not feel he had the character to manage a young squad of players, or have tactics that would suit a style of play the team has been playing so far this season.
Come Tuesday night, just over 48 hours after confirmation the clubs manager had signed to manage a Championship rival was confirmed, they officially announced Tony Mowbray as the new man to take the reins. Mowbray’s recent job at Blackburn leaves their fans with mixed emotions, difficult to say if his job had been a success or not given the state of the club when he arrived. Mowbray has consolidated them as a Championship team, a realistic expectation for Sunderland over the next two or three seasons at least after so long in League One.
Will he be able to deliver in a job where hard work, good football and a never say die attitude is the minimum hope and ask from the fans. Having seen the comments from his first interview as Sunderland boss, he seems to get it. He seems to understand what the fans want and suggests he knows what he must deliver. The words the fans want to hear ‘we will be aggressive’ and ‘the players need to know what they are fighting for’ will be music to their ears. The club also seem to have rebuffed the suggestion of a reluctance to offer their manager more than a 1 year rolling contract as Mowbray penned his 2 year deal.
Born just down the road in Saltburn and playing for Middlesbrough for 9 years and managing them for 3, he should have more than a good understanding of the North East fans. I was not overly impressed by his management style or his interviews, I only hope that I am again wrong and we have a manager who can restart our season. His record of rebuilding his teams, especially at Middlesbrough and West Brom, and believing in youngsters should work well with how the club want to operate.
He has shown his willingness and his ability to use young players and turn them into good first team performers. We have to give him a chance, we have to get behind him. With only two days until the transfer window closes, Mowbray will need to address any weaknesses within a squad that will surely be playing a different formation, Mowbray tending to prefer a 4-3-3 system rather than the 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 we have been set up to play so far. A right back who can walk into the first team is a must on recent performances, Gooch is simply not a right wing back, no matter his work rate. Mowbray and Speakman now have a hectic couple of days ensuring the squad is capable of consolidating early results and preventing any derailing of of the wo