There was to be no ‘Great Escape’ this time. No miracles. The dream gave way to a nightmare.
Houdini himself would’ve struggled to escape from Sunderland’s 4-0 loss to Aston Villa with his job intact, so it’s not really any surprise that Gus Poyet has been shown the exit door.
Prior to the weekend’s match, Villa had averaged just a goal every other Premier League game. They scored 4 in 45 minutes on Wearside. Sunderland, meanwhile, have just four wins all season.
The results have been poor and the style of football even worse. There has been a fear of failure since the 8-0 defeat to Southampton, and Poyet has made increasingly baffling tactical decisions – fielding Steven Fletcher on the left wing against Villa just the latest example. 14 draws point to a coach trying not to lose games, as opposed to trying to win them.
He has lain blame elsewhere – the referees, the media, even the fans – but ultimately it is he and his team who have not been good enough.
There’d been an expectation that Poyet and the club would likely part ways in the summer, but the manner of Saturday’s defeat has served to speed-up the process.
There will always be a fondness for the Uruguayan on Wearside, having pulled off a miraculous escape from relegation last season, as well as leading the club to their first cup final in over 20 years and consecutive wins over rivals Newcastle. Good will, however, can only last so long.
Maybe there’s something about an upcoming derby that makes chairman Ellis Shirt hasty about such decisions. Paolo Di Canio’s second game in charge was the Tyne-Wear derby, as was Poyet’s.
Sunderland have confirmed Dick Advocaat’s appointment for the rest of the season meaning that his second game in charge will be against… yep, Newcastle! (To be fair, both previous occasions have produced wins.)
This managerial go-round (there is nothing merry about it) points to the larger problems facing Sunderland, ones that go above just who is managing the team.
This is the fourth sacking Short has made in the last four years, and you have to go back to the 2010/11 season to find the last time a Sunderland manager was in charge for a whole campaign.
After heavily backing Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill in the transfer market, with little return on the pitch, Short has tightened the purse strings somewhat for Di Canio’s and Poyet, looking instead to free transfers and ‘value’ signings.
A part of this has been the faith in a Director of Football/Head Coach system. Despite resistance and scepticism in this country it can and does work, but thus far Sunderland have found the perfect formula elusive.
Roberto Di Fanti was a total error of judgement, and at least as culpable, if not arguably more so, as Di Canio for the mess Poyet found upon arrival.
Lee Congerton seemed a more promising appointment, with a good background in the game, yet the summer signings haven’t quite taken off and the relationship between him and Poyet has always seemed slightly uncomfortable.
There have been a series of questionable decisions taken by those at the top of the club, Short and Chief Exec. Margaret Byrne, with judgement seeming clouded at times and the direction the club want to head in unclear.
Replace manager – brief revival – summer overhaul – new season optimism – get embroiled in relegation battle – repeat. It has been a vicious circle at Sunderland for too long now for just one man to be held to account each time it happens.
So far the club have just about gotten away with it, but there must surely come a time when that luck runs out.
It doesn’t bear thinking about where the club would be without Short’s investment, but this culture of constant change needs to, um, change.
With Advocaat, the club have gone for a short-term ‘fix’ until the end-of-the-season, which could either be a shot in the arm or a lethal injection.
The decision taken in the summer on who takes the club forward will be massive, and one those tasked with making must get right. As it stands you wouldn’t necessarily trust them to do so.