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Sunderland unravelling after six straight defeats - Interview
Thursday, 14th Mar 2024 08:19 by Clive Whittingham

Post Mick Beale meltdown, injury hit Sunderland come into this weekend on a run of six straight defeats and with a good deal of unrest among the support base - we spoke with the What The Falk Podcast and A Love Supreme fanzine...

A ridiculous season at Sunderland, how would you assess it overall?

WTF: In a sentence? A mess of our own making. The season began with expectations that we could push for the play offs again with the likes of Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts but there was concern that we hadn't identified the right sort of players in the right position to build on what we did last year, while we probably underestimated how much of a miss Amad Diallo would be. We started well enough, beat Southampton 5-0, and looked a good, young, vibrant team like we did last year. However, with Mowbray not in charge of transfers, you could see there was frustration between him and the board as we had signed a bunch of young, untested kids again and lost experienced Championship performers like Ross Stewart, Amad Diallo and Corry Evans to injury, loan returns or being sold. Cue his being sacked without any real back up plan, Beale coming in and just wrecking the place with his joy vacuum, bending over for our biggest rivals fans in a massive FA Cup tie and...well now we're here. So yeah - a mess of our own making.

ALS: Bad compared to last season but (at this moment in time) not yet disastrous. If we’d had this season last season and last season this season I don’t think the unhappiness from our fan base would have been this severe. We’ve accepted we won’t go up and most of us don’t think we’ll go down (this is Sunderland though). It’s going to be a pretty boring end to the season then, which is unusual at Sunderland because we are almost always either fighting relegation or going for promotion.

Sunderland in the league so far…
Sunderland 1-2 Ipswich Neill 86 – Broadhead 45, Hirst 53
Preston 2-1 Sunderland Keane 25, Frokjaer 59 – Clarke pen 31
Sunderland 2-1 Rotherham Bellingham 22, 52 – Odofin 20
Coventry 0-0 Sunderland
Sunderland 5-0 Southampton Clarke 1, Ekwah 7, 45, Dack 48, Rigg 90
QPR 1-3 Sunderland Paal 12 – Clarke 45+8, Ballard 57, Ba 81
Blackburn 1-3 Sunderland Leonard 35 – Clarke pen 28, 78, Neill 45
Sunderland 0-1 Cardiff McGuinness 87
Sheff Wed 0-3 Sunderland Ballard 5, Clarke 8, pen 31
Sunderland 2-0 Watford Huggins 43, Ba 62
Sunderland 0-4 Boro Greenwood 58, Crooks 60, Jones 72, Forss 90
Stoke 2-1 Sunderland Mmaee 7, McNally 47 – Clarke 10
Leicester 1-0 Sunderland Justin 12
Sunderland 3-1 Norwich Hume 37, Neill 45, Clarke pen 80 – Ui-jo 23
Swansea 0-0 Sunderland
Sunderland 3-1 Birmingham Bellingham 17, Sanderson og 57, Aouchiche 76 – Miyoshi 30
Plymouth 2-0 Sunderland Whittaker 24, Azaz 40
Sunderland 1-2 Huddersfield O’Nien 40 – Helik 28, Burgzorg 67
Millwall 1-1 Sunderland Nisbet 44 – Clarke pen 78
Sunderland 2-1 West Brom Ballard 70, Neill 84 – Thomas-Asante 86
Sunderland 1-0 Leeds Bellingham 78
Bristol City 1-0 Sunderland Conway pen 20
Sunderland 0-3 Coventry Sakamoto 45, O’Hare 67, Palmer 70
Hull 0-1 Sunderland Clarke 82
Rotherham 1-1 Sunderland Clucas 48 – Clarke 73
Sunderland 2-0 Preston Pritchard 10, Rusyn 44
Ipswich 2-1 Sunderland Jackson 33, Chaplin 77 – Clarke 26
Sunderland 0-1 Hull Carvalho 71
Sunderland 3-1 Stoke Burstow 43, Ba 49, Ekwah 70 – Seelt og 74
Boro 1-1 Sunderland Forss 61 – Rusyn 83
Sunderland 3-1 Plymouth Ekwah 52, Clarke 59, Bellingham 67 – Hardie 39
Huddersfield 1-0 Sunderland Pearson 37
Birmingham 2-1 Sunderland James 60, Miyoshi 80 – Clarke 22
Sunderland 1-2 Swansea O’Nien 77 – Ronald 19, 28
Norwich 1-0 Sunderland Sargent 81
Sunderland 0-1 Leicester Vardy 13
Southampton 4-2 Sunderland S Armstrong 9, A Armstrong pen 37, Rothwell 77, 80 – Mundle 62, Bellingham 71

Six defeats in a row - injuries? Already on the Mykonos highway? Given up?

WTF: There's a couple of reasons, really, but yeah, injuries have played a part. We currently have Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts, Luke O'Nien, Dan Ballard, Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese and Niall Huggins all out with injury or suspensions and almost all of them would be starting on Saturday if they were available. That said, it would be far too easy to blame that. The biggest issue for me is that we had this hugely talented young squad last year but with a sprinkling of experience throughout in the shape of Danny Batth, Alex Pritchard, Lynden Gooch and we went and sold them all because they didn't have much resale value and didn't fit our "model" of only signing young talents under the age of 24. When young lads have little experience, are getting beat every week and have no old heads to rely on - it is a recipe for disaster, and that's what this season is turning into. There's no experience in the dugout either, with Mike Dodds originally coming to Sunderland as youth coach and now the first team manager because the board decided Michael "some of the best coaching I've ever seen" Beale was the man to take us forward after sacking Tony Mowbray. We're a criminally young squad that lacks any experience on or off the pitch. Also, if I am honest, some of these kids will never be good enough for this level, and the recruitment of them have been a total oversight. Again, six defeats in a row are on the board and recruitment. We all saw this coming, and they arrogantly refused to adapt the model to benefit the club. Sunderland is far too big a club to be a Guinea pig for some French billionaire.

ALS: Injuries aren’t to blame but we would have probably nicked a point from somewhere with Jack Clarke available. I don’t think we can give up as we still need another two or three wins to guarantee survival but I’m confident we’ll do that even with the bad form. We are missing our three left backs so we are having to play our new man, Leo Hjelde, there at the moment and there’s some doubt as to whether he’s better off as a left back or as a centre back. He’s been inconsistent at best. Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard are suspended and injured respectively so we’ve only got one fit natural centre back at the moment, Jenson Seelt. Corry Evans would be a nice player to have available for some experience in the midfield but he’s been out all season so he can hardly be blamed for our bad form and Patrick Roberts would be a good option but he’s been out of form all season so his absence also can’t really be to blame. Bradley Dack isn’t even worth considering. All the last few games have highlighted is how dependent we are on Jack Clarke, which is a worry given that he’s definitely going to leave in summer.

Do you think they regret binning Mowbray off now? What was the thinking behind that at the time?

WTF: I certainly don't want to re-write history. But a small smattering of fans was beginning to think he had hit his ceiling, and I actually praised the sacking at the time because of that reason. But I backed it thinking there's no way they'd sack him without someone already in place. We then flirted for three weeks with a wee ginger bloke in France who has done a high-performance podcast with J**e Humphrey and then realised he actually didn't fancy it and appointed Michael Beale. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I had realised how underprepared and thoughtless the director of football and board really are, I'd have offered Uncle Tony 40 bags of revels with the coffee ones taken out in order to keep him. I really miss him now.

ALS: Maybe but sacking Mowbray was the right decision at the time as we were struggling for wins and too inconsistent to really hope to finish in the top six. Obviously his replacement was nowhere near the right appointment but that doesn’t mean parting ways with Mowbray was a bad decision. We were better with Mowbray than we are now but I don’t think there should be regret surrounding his sacking because no one expected it to go this wrong after he left, obviously that’s the hierarchy's fault so they may regret what they’ve done after.

Mick Beale. Talk to us. I actually thought he might do alright with you, you know. Why did it go so wrong so quickly?

WTF: Jesus. Because he's a bit of an arsehole? Can I be that blunt? Yeah. It was quite clear from day one that it was never going to work out, and the reason it ended so abruptly is completely on him. He was a conformist appointment. Free. Desperate and probably not long enough out the door at Rangers to have reflected on his mistakes.

His first game he was forced to apologise for the performance. He got some half decent results at points (Hull away we won 1-0, we beat Stoke and Plymouth at home 3-1) but even when we got results, the football and having to listen to him speak afterwards was sucking the fun out of supporting Sunderland. And it had been really REALLY fun for 18 months prior. He called criticism from fans "outside noise", said we only disliked him because he was a cockney with a cockney accent (Kevin Phillips might have to disagree) and also told us he hadn't even worked in London for 10 years (No, he actually said that). He had three decent results after the cockney comment and then reverted to big bad boring bollock head Beale and lost back-to-back games against Huddersfield and Birmingham (Tony Mowbray's Birmingham ha). He refused to shake Trai Hume's hand as he came off and then went on Instagram to make a big statement about it. Why? God knows. Only the Beale knows about his strange ways.

So yeah... he got sacked, and then I accidently found his burner account after he started attacking me via it for saying him not shaking Hume's hand was out of order. I'm assuming you've seen the burner account stuff? Incredible, even by his oddball standards. Pleased he's gone, and he should have never been here.

He takes loads of credit for the work he did at Rangers, but have you ever seen his colleagues from Rangers like Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister wish him luck at his new clubs? A man of so little integrity - which I'm sure you know all about.

ALS: Beale was up against it from the start. We’d been linked with Will Still and ended up with him so that was disappointing. Mike Dodds had overseen wins against Leeds and West Brom just before his appointment so it felt like we’d been sent straight back down to Earth after a good week or so. His first game ended in an awful 0-3 defeat to Coventry and there were chants of Mowbray’s name. We then scraped a win away at Hull which helped him out because it was our first away win since September but he shot himself in the foot by setting up totally wrong away to Rotherham which meant we dropped points. A comfortable win against Preston came next, which was great because a striker, Nazariy Rusyn, finally scored for us. The derby against Newcastle was terrible not just because we lost but because we basically didn’t try to win and accepted defeat before kick off seemingly. The whole vibe around the club wasn’t fantastic (to put it very mildly) as we decorated our own stadium in their colours which reflected (unfairly) onto Michael Beale’s position as head coach. Throwing away a lead away to Ipswich and a boring 0-1 defeat against Hull led to 96% of our fans on a Twitter poll concluding that he couldn’t be a success here but he surprisingly nearly turned it around with the next three games seeing us beat Stoke and Plymouth and earn a draw away to Boro. Most of our fans at this point were thinking to give him a chance but of course we lost to Huddersfield and Birmingham and he was binned off. The football was awful don’t get me wrong and we lost our ability to create good chances in a lot of games but his tendency towards causing offence probably annoyed us more. Calling the fans ‘background noise’ in a press conference isn’t something that should ever be said by a manager. So to conclude, terrible football, terrible press conferences and whenever he began to turn a corner he shot himself in the foot. He’s the shortest serving manager in our history which is impressive considering some of the men we’ve had in the dugout in recent years.

Mick Beale has denied that the @player__ID Twitter account, which has since been taken down, is in fact him.

Sunderland have been praised in recent seasons for their youth-focused recruitment, often from Europe, has that gone a little awry this year?

WTF: Badly. I sort of allured to it before, but they've seemed to completely gone for solely young, untested European lads and shipped out all of the experience. The recruitment has been shocking in the last three windows and we haven't identified any of the positions we needed to improve on and just continued to sign young lads - most of which don't look anyone near good enough or ready. It'll be class when we sell Jack Clarke in the summer and sign 17 right backs from PSG's Academy again. Progress, eh? Who needs it.

ALS: Yes but arguably because we haven’t helped any of the young players we’ve signed with any experience. The actual players we’ve signed are largely okay but a lot of them haven’t featured enough to make an impact. Two permanent and a temporary head coach hasn’t helped them to break into the squad but frustratingly we’ve decided to stick with out of form players at times rather than giving new players a chance. Jobe Bellingham (funnily enough the only one who’s really a regular starter from summer) and Pierre Ekwah aren’t doing great but for some reason we haven’t started Adil Aouchiche even though he’s looked quite good when he’s come on is a good example of this. Romaine Mundle, who we signed in January, has played quite well since arriving so I don’t think many of the players we’ve signed are all hopeless. We’ve got four strikers, without Championship experience, and they’ve either not scored or only scored one or two. If we had an experienced midfielder (I’m not counting Bradley Dack) and an experienced striker, I think we’d be in a much better position. The model itself is a good idea but next summer (especially with some of the fees we are going to get) we need to bend it a little to allow for more players older than their early 20s. I’ve missed a lot out here and you could write hundreds of words on our transfer strategy and go through each player we’ve brought in since last season and why exactly it hasn’t worked out so far for most of them.

Summer Ins >>> Nazariy Rusyn, 24, CF, Lugansk, £2m >>> Jenson Seelt, 20, CB, PSV, £1,5m >>> Jobe Bellingham, 17, CM, Birmingham, £1.5m >>> Eliezer Mayenda, 18, CF, Sochaux, £700k >>> Luis Semedo, 19, CM, Benfica, £500k >>> Nectarios Triantis, 20, CB, Central Coast, £300k >>> Bradley Dack, 29, AM, Blackburn, Free >>> Timothee Pembele, 20, RB, PSG, Undisclosed >>> Adil Aouchiche, 21, AM, L’Orient, Undisclosed >>> Nathan Bishop, 23, GK, Man Utd, Undisclosed >>> Mason Burstow, 20, CF, Chelsea, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Ross Stewart, 27, CF, Southampton, £9m >>> Lyndon Gooch, 27, RW, Stoke, Undisclosed >>> Danny Batth, 32, CB, Norwich, Undisclosed >>> Isaac Lihadji, 21, RW, Al-Duhail (Qatar), Undisclosed >>> Leon Dajaku, 22, ST, Hadjuk Split, Free >>> Bailey Wright, 30, CB, LC Sailors (Singapore), Free >>> Carl Winchester, 30, DM, Shrewsbury, Free >>> Alex Bass, 25, GK, Wimbledon, Loan >>> Joe Anderson, 22, CB, Shrewsbury, Loan >>> Elliot Embleton, 24, AM, Derby, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Romaine Mundle, 20, RW, Standard Liege, £1.5m >>> Leo Hjelde, 20, LB, Leeds, £1.5m >>> Callum Styles, 23, CM, Barnsley, Loan

Winter Outs >>> Alex Pritchard, 30, AM, Birmingham, £100k >>> Jewison Bennette, 19, LW, Aris Saloniki, Loan >>> Eliezer Mayenda, 18, RW, Hibs, Loan >>> Jack Diamond, 24, LW, Carlisle, Loan >>> Jay Matete, 22, CM, Oxford, Loan >>> Nectarios Triantis, 20, CB, Hibs, Loan

Player of the season candidates?

WTF: Jack Clarke. He's class, and I love him more than my own family. But not more than Amad Diallo.

ALS: Clarke in a distant first place. We’ve relied on him massively and last week’s defeat to Southampton was the first time we’ve scored in an away game without him scoring or assisting at least one of the goals in almost a year. Players like Dan Ballard and Luke O’Nien (which may be a controversial suggestion to our fans) have played well most of the season and Anthony Patterson, despite a few errors, has mostly been pretty solid in goal. Trai Hume has done quite well and Abdoullah Ba has been able to improve his output from last season but it’s hard to argue he’s been anything over above average. But no, Clarke is a distant first and anyone else would be competing for second place, partly because Clarke has been so good but also because we haven't been great a lot of the time as a team.

Weak links in the side?

WTF: Where do I begin? The defence has our two main centre halves out this week, so it'll be two 20 year olds at CB. We have no defensive midfielders, and we play rock, paper, and scissors to decide which of the four childlike strikers play every week, but none of them can score.

ALS: The midfield. Ekwah is out of form, Bellingham is too tired to be effective for a whole 90 minutes and we are missing a natural defensive midfielder (although in fairness Dan Neil has been a solid deputy). We need to have a swap around and we’ve given a chance to 16 year old Chris Rigg in recent weeks alongside giving Aouchiche more time off of the bench but I think we are going to have to drop Bellingham eventually. An 18-year-old can’t be expected to play pretty much every game in a season. Our striker situation continues to haunt us but we’ve insisted with starting Mason Burstow who hasn’t been good enough all season and this has mean Luis Hemir and Nazariy Rusyn have missed out on minutes they probably deserved to have more. Even if none of them are good enough (which I think Rusyn is currently and Hemir will be eventually) we don’t play to their strengths. Hemir is best in the air inside the box and we’ve hardly crossed the ball to him and Rusyn makes some good runs forward that just get ignored. Our defence will be an issue for Saturday specifically with both of our first choice centre backs absent. Other than the midfield, defence and attack though we have a great team at the moment!

How do you see the remaining games going?

WTF: I wish we could just end the season now. We need two wins to make sure we don't get pulled into a relegation battle but if Jack Clarke plays 4-5 games before the season ends, he'll probably do enough to make sure we do that before he leaves to Brentford for £12m and a voucher for the PSG Academy.

ALS: I’m (possibly naively) confident our form will pick up for the rest of the season. I’d say six of our remaining nine games are winnable and with three home games against sides in the bottom half in our next five games there’s no reason we can’t win at least two of those. Mike Dodds (interim boss) has used the games against the tougher sides in the league to experiment so hopefully we will have sorted out some of the issues we’ve been having in recent weeks. The last four games of the season aren’t particularly difficult on paper, the Millwall and Sheff Wed games should be wins and the game away to Watford is one we should be looking to get a point out of. So aside from Leeds and West Brom away (and maybe also Cardiff) there aren’t any games I’m worried about.

Links >>> Sunderland official website >>> Sunderland Echo — Local Paper >>> Roker Report — Blog >>> Not606 — Forum >>> Ready to Go — Forum >>> Wise Men Say – Podcast >>> What The Falk – Podcast >>> A Love Supreme – Fanzine

The Twitter @loftforwords

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loftboy added 11:18 - Mar 14
They underestimate how the teams in the bottom are fighting at the moment.!
Didn’t realise Dack was there, he usually scores against us.

davman added 17:43 - Mar 14
Go at this brittle lot like we went at WBA in the second half and we're back in the hunt for survival. Capitulate like the games against Stoke and the second half against 'Boro (which we are as capable of doing) and CPR will help Sunderland break their losing run.

God, Rangers, PLEASE turn up; there's three points for the taking here...

TacticalR added 14:32 - Mar 16
Thanks to What The Falk and A Love Supreme.

Interesting that neither of the Sunderland fans is that keen on Mowbray, even in retrospect.

The youth model that everyone says they want to follow doesn't seem to be working that well. Beale's reputation has been seriously damaged, but it was saying the right thing about that model that allowed him to talk his way into the club.

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