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Avoiding Sunderland's Fate - Lessons From Sunderland Till I Die
Written by vancouverblue on Tuesday, 18th Dec 2018 18:52

I was sat watching Netflix last night and the Sunderland Till I Die docuseries. As one episode turned into two and then five and thoughts of that decent night's sleep I knew I needed disappeared into the early hours, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between them last season and Town this year.

Here’s a few examples of the thoughts of supporters, players and staff just from episode five which focused on the period from mid-December to the end of the January transfer window last year - see if any of this sounds familiar:

- The owner’s put in a lot of cash and doesn’t want to keep doing it

- You have to accept that you’re relying on loan players who ultimately don’t want to be here

- Sunderland let their two best strikers leave in the January window leaving them with one player who had scored four all year, one who’d scored three and the rest on single goals. These strikers weren’t really replaced and Sunderland were left with inexperienced strikers for the rest of the season.

- They appointed Chris Coleman after 12 league games - a well-respected, experienced manager who initially gave the place a massive lift and got everyone at the club pulling in the same direction, although results continued to be mainly negative.

- The managing director, Martin Bain, complained that when you are where they were in the league, especially in the Championship, getting players into the club becomes, “a nightmare”.

- The two goalkeepers were both struggling for confidence and from after being dropped and switched around throughout the season.

- “Who can play upfront and get us the goals? You look at the team and you can’t see where the goals are going to come from.”

- “You get a top quality coach and then you don’t back him - Ellis Short you can (*kindly get out of our club and never come back*)” *This may have been said in slightly more industrial language - but it’s a family club and I’m a family blogger.

See what I mean?

So, where do we go from here? How do we avoid Sunderland’s fate of dropping through the trap door into league one?

I’m not sure I know.

However, I do think that this January coming up is one of the most important periods in the club's history. It’s certainly one of the most important transfer windows I can remember in 30 years of following the club. I reckon it’s the biggest period for transfers since George Burley went out and got in Marcus Stewart and Martijn Reuser (“Reuser…. Premiership!” - still brings chills as I write that!) to put us over the edge in 2000.

Firstly, Paul Lambert has to be backed in January. Marcus Evans has messed up selling strikers and not adequately replacing them and hopefully he realises that. Lambert needs money and he needs to bring in the right players. We need a couple of strikers. We need goals.

Secondly, Bart needs to be rehabilitated and given a decent run. We all know what he’s capable of. Let’s get him right and get him back to being what he’s been over the last three seasons for us.

Thirdly, something needs to be done to increase attendances. One of the key things at Sunderland was that the fans got into a downward spiral of negativity, attendances dropped off and the Sunderland team were playing to half-empty Stadium of Light.

I’m not saying the Portman Road crowd has been negative (far from it – from what I can gather, the fans have been incredibly supportive when it might have been easier to go the other way). What I do think is the club needs to find ways to get more people in and let the players use that positivity.

A tenner a ticket for West Brom got 23,000 in the ground. Other than that they’ve consistently been between 14-16,000. Get the fans in and get the place rocking.

Will this be enough? Of course the heart says yes, but the head….. I’m really not sure. It may be that everything is too little too late and ultimately the Paul Hurst experiment ends up costing the club and we can’t avoid Sunderland’s fate and we do go down.

Would it be the worst thing in the world? It’d hurt like hell, but if Lambert stays and can build up a decent squad developing some of the younger players in what would be better conditions; then there’s a chance we could follow what Southampton, Norwich (yeah, I know) and Man City (before the Sheikh got involved) all did and go from League One to the Premier League in successive seasons. Sheffield United are doing alright this year.

So, can we avoid Sunderland’s fate? Possibly not. But we can learn the lessons and give it a bloody good go, starting with getting January right and giving Lambert a fighting chance.

And if it doesn’t work, let’s keep the positives and see it as a springboard to bigger and better things. What other hope do we have? After all, we’re Ipswich Till We Die.

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Nthsuffolkblue added 20:16 - Dec 18
Some interesting thoughts and comparisons here but there are some major differences too. We cannot expect to be in Sunderland's position next season if we go down. We are more akin to Coventry (or Norwich when they went down).

The idea that "Bart needs to be rehabilitated and given a decent run. We all know what he’s capable of. Let’s get him right and get him back to being what he’s been over the last three seasons for us." flies in the face of the earlier statement of where 2 keepers had been chopped and changed and had both had their confidence shot. Gerken has done nothing wrong. Bart has now been dropped twice for his poor form. He is definitely our better keeper long term but right now Gerken rightly has the gloves and should remain the man with them until there is a very good reason to change. He made a cracking save to ensure we got the 3 points on Saturday. Of course, everything should be done to put right whatever is wrong with Bart at the moment and he will be back I am sure. However, dropping Gerken would be plain wrong.

jayessess added 14:09 - Dec 19
I watched it as well and drew some fairly different conclusions. I thought the abuse at Ellis Short really put into perspective the situation with our own ownership. No club's supporters has a right to expect some rich businessman to endlessly spend money on their team, there aren't enough billionaires to go round. The clubs that don't get outside investment have to be self-sufficient and live within their means. That's tough but it's reality.

In that respect, spending wildly in the hope that it saves us from L1 just wouldn't be wise. Doing so would likely exacerbate the consequences of going down, particularly if we end up paying over the odds on contracts for players who see we're desperate and who might not make much of a difference anyway. If our turnover in L1 was £7m, L1 rules mean we'd need to get it down to £4.2m. Our last accounts had it at £18.5m. Luckily, we can discount any contracts signed before September 2018 from that, but we've got to see how insane it would be to add anything of any significance to next year's wage bill. Judiciously bringing in experienced players on a temporary basis who might get themselves a deal here or elsewhere if they do a good job? Yes. Serious spending with long-term consequences? Absolutely not.

I'm not as gloomy about L1 as you Nthsuffolkblue. We haven't quite the fan base that Sunderland have (or the players really) but that hypothetical wage bill is still going to be considerably bigger than almost every other club in the division, as are our resources off the pitch (ie. the academy). We've got the comparative advantage of having at least 8 young players (Woolfenden, Kenlock, Emmanuel, Dozzell, Nydam, Downes, Lankester, Morris) who have been around the first team but who haven't signed big contracts as first team regulars. That'll go a long way towards us having sufficient bodies without undue costs. We've also got another load of players who've been successful at that level before. Our owner, as much stick as he gets, is also nowhere near as as awful as the mob running Coventry.

Coventry are a bit of outlier as well, to be honest. Of the teams relegated from the Championship in 2017, Wigan returned as champions, Blackburn as runners up and Rotherham as play-off winners. Are any of those clubs bigger or better supported than Ipswich Town? Are their owners any less stingy? In fact, the easiest way to end up as a Charlton, Coventry, Portsmouth or Bradford would be to spend recklessly and put the club's finances in further peril.


Warkys_Tash added 22:55 - Dec 19
Vancouver Blue - I am watching to currently and agree its an additive watch - probably because we now find ourselves in that awful position. I too watch a draw several parallels with our situation but at the same time (may its more hope that reality) believe that the positivity around our club is far greater than Sunderlands at that time.

They appear to be beleaguered even with the optimism and boost Coleman provided. I am not yet at the stage where they sell (presumably Grabban?) strikers and get left with none for the remainder of the season. We still have hope that we will be left with more capable strikers ta the end of the Jan window. - If this doesnt happen then I feel all hope and positivity will drain away.

However, I feel (rightly or wrongly) that Evan will actually back Lambert in the window as he knows this will be our only chance to escape. However on the lip side when you see the struggle Sunderland had to sign anyone in the summer window and you see it first hand behind the scenes you know how difficult it is going to be for PL to get in the players he really thinks will make a difference.

Whatever happens this season, I believe we must hod onto Lambert as he is our best chance of an immediate return - If he does quit like Coleman then I would fear the worst..

Coastalblue added 06:25 - Dec 20
I think a big difference is that we have been on a gradual decline, they were in freefall and not recovered from the previous relegation.
The club came across as totally toxic from fans to players in a way that Town has never felt, their so called support was shameful.

BlueandTruesince82 added 15:45 - Dec 20
Bottom line is we need goals from somewhere.

Freddie can't do it all, maybe Harrison can provide that.

We need a CB, is Woolfenden the answer? Maybe, should one so young be at the heart of a relegation dogfight? I honestly don't know, but he looked far more assure than Toto has.

We need a LB and a RB. Knudsen has gone backwards for me, I still think he could make a good CB especially in a 3.

I think defensively if we played to our strengths a back 3 with Woolfenden back makes sense, that would make room for say a Ben Marshall (be amazed if it happens) type player on the right.

MF, we have the players, Skuse has been good this year, Downes, Dozzell,.Huws.(If fit), Bishop (Same), Edwards, Rowe, Chabolah (jury out on last 3 but still solid)

Lancaster shows promise..... So if we throw say 3 more players into a side that barely knows one another will that help or hinder? Come Feb I'd like

Bart/Gerks....(as above think Gerks keeps gloves for now but Bart long term)

New RWB, Pennington, Chambo, Woolfie, New LWB

Skuse/Downes, Dozzell/Bishop/Huws

Lankaster/Edwards/ Rowe , New CF, Freddie

Assume Edwards and Rowe coukd play on either side of a front 3 if needed

I would take Marshall and Murphy or Gestarde the latter 2 brining a physicality and ability to head the ball.

I'm sure there are other options. I also still think the addition of Kieron Richardson could be a masterstroke.....

No doubt, Evans needs to dig a little deeper to get us out of this... some Waghorn money still available

ElephantintheRoom added 10:27 - Dec 21
I've not seen it but there are many obvious differences between Ipswich and Sunderland, the most obvious being the large and deluded supporter base that sees Sunderland as a 'big club' and the false premise that a biggish crowd = 'big club'. Sunderland have been rubbish my entire life and I started supporting Town in the mid-60s. The more worrying docu on Netflix is the mishmash on Robson. The brief section on Town shows just how far the club has left its roots and identity behind. Town's decline has been slow - death by a 1000 cuts, a bit similar to the country under the tories. A tipping point has probably been reached and Town have now reached their position of Portsmouth or Coventry at the start of their abrupt decline. Interesting that your conclusion is to make the same mistakes as Sunderland - buy yet more players. The key reason Town are in a mess (other than owner being in it for the money) is the revolving door recruitment policy and lack of opportunity given to home grown players or players from lower down the league pyramid. This is compounded by an impatient and intolerant crowd that is not prepared to give players time to develop.

Draws_apoint_ added 20:34 - Dec 27
Can agree with many of these points biggest problem will be recruiting the the right players that will spark a upward turn and acactually want to be here. As has been seen before with acetaminophen much maligned manager it's not easy.

Draws_apoint_ added 20:36 - Dec 27
Sorry spell check overworking on last comment

SouperJim added 12:38 - Dec 29
The only thing that will save us is if Evans puts his hand in his pocket in a meaningful way. That means taking a risk, that we could end up lumbered with several players on big money in league one. Ergo he won't do it and we are doomed.

tractorboykent added 13:17 - Jan 2
Agreed that it was an excellent programme - one of the best footie docs that I've ever seen. It kept you gripped even though you knew the conclusion.

The parallels are clear and so the differences which have been well raised in previous comments.

The one thing that the two situations have indisputably in common imo is that the squads were too weak to survive. Sunderland had a new manager bounce in terms of results; we had one in terms optimism but not in points. Sunderland had one or two headline days (a stunning 4-0 win at Derby) and we had our 'mini-reviva'l in 4 points- from- 6 but then in both cases normal service was resumed with defeat after defeat many of which were self inflicted. Both clubs had real 6 pointer games that they lost (for me, Saturday's defeat to Millwall extinguished any hope of us getting out of this.)

So far this season, Sunderland's story is a happy one in terms of a) league position, b) the form of some of the kids who were 'prospects' last season and who are delivering this time and c) what seems like near universal support for the new owner. At the moment, such an outcome for us would be bliss.
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