Sunderland are in the Sky Bet Championship relegation zone heading into the weekend following a nightmare run of form that saw Simon Grayson sacked in midweek.
They travel to Middlesbrough for the Tees-Wear derby on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football, knowing that defeat will sink them further into trouble.
Here, ex-Sunderland player and Sky Sports pundit Don Goodman assesses the issues at the club…
Poor attitude of the squad
Simon Grayson had players who, despite being relegated from the Premier League, think they’re too good for the Championship, and they’ve gone into this season with an attitude of being better than this. And that won’t get you anywhere.
There were two words synonymous with the era I played in: ‘professional pride’. But that seems to have gone out of the window for a lot of players who don’t seem to care about that. For many now it’s more about themselves, money and status, rather than managers clubs and fans.
M’boro vs S’land
November 5, 2017, 11:45am
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It can be very hard for managers to deal with and it’s a mentality that can wreck dressing rooms, atmospheres and football clubs. We’re talking about Sunderland today but there are any number of previous examples of that in English football, and it will keep happening.
They’re not playing well and on big money, so who will take them? They’ll sit there on their big wages and it’s a massive problem for relegated clubs.
Don Goodman believes Wigan manager Paul Cook could help turn things around at struggling Sunderland Who could replace Grayson?
Sunderland have tried everything. They’ve tried the route of foreign managers with experience in England such as Gus Poyet and Paolo di Canio, which hasn’t really work, and the supposed safer pair of hands such as David Moyes and Simon Grayson. They both seemed like a good fit but they didn’t work either.
Right now it’s just not an attractive job and I just can’t see where they go from here. One thing they haven’t tried is a young and hungry lower league manager desperate to prove himself. Paul Hurst has done an amazing job at Shrewsbury, but I think I’d like someone with a bit more experience such as Paul Cook, who has been managing his way up the leagues very successfully. But Wigan is better for Cook right now, and he might even have more resources there.
But good luck to anybody who does take it. It will be interesting to see what kind of backing the next man gets in January. The powers that be at Sunderland have made a right mess of it, but they’re not the first and they won’t be the last.
Trying to bounce back
Grayson took a gamble and hoped he could make a good fist of it on a low budget while also having to trim the wage bill, but it’s backfired on him. Statistics will show you that less than 30 per cent of clubs relegated from the Premier League get promoted back straight away. That is quite staggering, but it’s the nature of the Championship, and showed the task Grayson had on his hands.
In the Championship now we have players on more than £50k-a-week and it’s mind-boggling. There are also players on £800-a-week, which shows the disparity in the league. It doesn’t lead to dressing room harmony and we saw in the shape of Leicester a couple of years ago just how far that can take you. It can take you to the ends of the earth.
Obviously the better calibre of player you have helps. But when I look at Sunderland I don’t see that at all. I see a lack of confidence and players who think they’re too good to be there. When you put all that into the mix there’s no chance.
Michael Gray says he can envisage back-to-back relegations for Sunderland, following Simon Grayson's sacking as manager Could they get relegated again?
There’s no way they’re a bottom-three Championship club, they should be way better than that. I don’t think they could have challenged for promotion this season but I didn’t think they’d be in a relegation battle.
They’re underachieving, and when that happens the buck stops with the manager. Simon Grayson knows that and he’ll think if he’d been given more patience he could have turned it around. They haven’t lost too many and they haven’t often been battered, but they’ve drawn too many games. Turning one or two of those draws into wins could have bought him more time, but they’ve been on the wrong side of it too many times and it’s fine lines.
You always wonder why it happens but maybe a new manager can galvanise things. How it works I don’t know, I gave every ounce for managers that were sacked and for managers that came in, but it’s just one of the mysteries of football.
Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship game between Sunderland and Bolton Can they beat Middlesbrough?
Middlesbrough need to be careful and on their game, but on the face of it you’d expect them to win. I’ve been working on the Championship for 11 years and played in it for 20 odd years, though, and I know that on any given day anyone can beat anyone, so that’s the chance Sunderland have.
In terms of form, quality and momentum they’ve got no chance, and this is the last game they’d want right now, but in this league you’ve always got an opportunity. It’s like a heavyweight fight, you can be the biggest outsider but sometimes one punch can be enough, and Sunderland have a puncher’s chance.
Don’t miss the Sky Bet Championship clash between Middlesbrough and Sunderland on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football from 11.45am