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Sunderland sack O’Neill for the right reasons, but at the wrong time

31 Mar 2013, 03:59 IST
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill loooks on before the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Norwich City at the Stadium of Light on March 17, 2013 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill loooks on before the Barclays Premier League match against Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on March 30, 2013 in Sunderland, England. (Getty Images)

Martin O’Neill has been sacked by Sunderland because the club has become this season’s team that suffers a late season dive down in to relegation trouble. There are a variety of reasons for making the move, which in itself is fair, but the timing is beyond bizarre.

Complete lack of flair, goals & tactical sophistication:

Sunderland have one flair player in Stephane Sessegnon and he hasn’t played anything like as well as he did last season. They don’t have any other players who offer any craft or invention. Wingers Adam Johnson and James McClean have both been poor this year. Johnson looks a shadow of the player he was last season and as Martin Tyler perceptively observed, it’s all well and good looking great for 20 minutes when you’re supplying Aguero or the opposition have Silva to distract them. It’s an altogether different task being the main man. In fact if anything, Johnson has been exposed as a one trick pony, and his one trick of cutting inside on to his left foot to shoot from the wing is so predictable. He hasn’t added anything else to his game as a starter and isn’t providing the stream of chances he has purchased to. On the other flank McClean is direct and works hard but he isn’t blessed with flair or creativity.

In central midfield the situation is just as bad. N’Diaye is a worker, Lee Cattermole is a tackler, Craig Gardner has bustle but no subtlety and Seb Larsson is a technician but isn’t a great passer. They lack a Yohan Cabaye or a James McCarthy that their rivals at the bottom end of table have. There’s no one to take hold of the game and make something different happen or to set a clear and organised attacking structure. The ball gets shoved out wide for the wingers to cross to what is often one man in the box. It’s one dimensional and easy to stop. This chronic lack of creativity and flair utterly constricts them.

Poor work in the transfer market:

O’Neill has made many poor signings at Sunderland, just as he did at Aston Villa. A lot of the side which he took to the top 6 regularly at Villa were players that he inherited. For every Ashley Young there was Marlon Harewood (£4m), Nigel Reo-Coker (£8m)  and Nicky Shorey (£3m). At Sunderland his big signings have been Steven Fletcher (£12m), Johnson (£12m) and Danny Graham (£5.5m).

Fletcher has been Sunderland’s only source of goals this year but other than finishing he hasn’t offered much besides. Johnson has been unimpressive and Graham was someone Sunderland didn’t need to sign. Another hard running player who plays without subtlety or flair. Sunderland already had more than enough of that. That money needed to spent on a central midfielder who could pass the ball and offer some creativity, someone to make chances for others and score goals himself.

Good start to the season based on defensive prowess; poor second half of season and lack of goals:

Sunderland had one of the best defences in the league and could get a decent number of points from grinding out 1-0s at home. When they started leaking goals and not scoring them, those 1-0 wins turned to 1-0 losses. With the attack verging on paralysis the defence has started to leak silly goals. It’s a toxic combination.

Sunderland have seen the bad signs and acted. The problem is though, whoever takes over has just 7 games to go and the fact that he’s been sacked after a loss to Man United is baffling. They did needed to change manager, but they either needed to do it about 6 games ago or ride it out to the end of the season to give the new man time to properly implement his tactical game plan and acquire the correct players to facilitate it efficiently.

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