Sunderland Heading Back to Their Darkest Days

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IPSWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Lee Cattermole of Sunderland sinks to his feet after the fourth Ipswich goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Ipswich Town and Sunderland at Portman Road on September 26, 2017 in Ipswich, England. (Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

May 1987, Sunderland lost a two-legged play-off against Gillingham on the away goals rule after drawing 6-6 on aggregate. The result sent the Black Cats down to Division Three (now League One) for the first time in their history.

After the recent 5-2 defeat at Ipswich which left Sunderland third from bottom of the table and without a win in eight league games, supporters are rightly getting worried the dark days of the 1980’s are returning to Wearside. Is there any hope?

Sunderland Heading Back to Their Darkest Days

Even though a new manager in Simon Grayson was brought in as well as ten new players for a small amount of money, many, whilst not expecting immediate promotion, did not expect the team to be struggling as it is. Defeats and off days are to be expected across a season, but these are happening all too often for the Black Cats. The side appear to have little confidence and fight. It is combination that usually brings one certainty with it: relegation.

Dark days of the 80’s

When Sunderland were relegated from the top-flight in 1985, they appointed the sought-after manager Lawrie McMenemy to guide them back. After his success at Southampton, McMenemy could have had his pick of jobs but chose Sunderland. He was made the highest-paid manager in British football.

In his first season the club just avoided relegation, during the second he resigned just as the club was about to hit its biggest low ever. They recovered and although times have been tough since, relegation in 1987 was the darkest of days. These are times that Sunderland fans do not want to revisit. If they do, it may take a lot longer this time to get back to where they belong.

Tough job

Simon Grayson was always going to have have a tough job on his hands, but his experience of building squads capable of either promotion or competing successfully on a low transfer budget had supporters hopeful. The team started brightly but injuries hit and he has been unable to find either a winning formula or a side that looks like competing. Is this not to be expected get when the transfer budget is just over £1 million? As the old saying goes: “you get what you pay for.”

When injuries hit his squad, Grayson changed his tactics from a 4-4-2 that worked well not just in his first few games at Sunderland but elsewhere to a 5-3-1-1 or 4-2-3-1. The changes were to compensate the fact that he believed he did not have sufficient cover in forward positions. The tactics have backfired. The team lack confidence and the ability to perform under these formations. After going a goal down at home to Cardiff City, Grayson changed tactics during the first half and the team looked better.

Whatever formation Grayson has used, the defending has been shambolic. Static defenders, poor passing and poor decision-making amongst other factors have made life easier for the opposition. Unless Sunderland find a formula where they can outscore teams, then the likelihood of defeat is high. They need confidence but on recent showings it won’t come from the defence.

Is there hope?

The obvious answer at the moment would be a resounding no, but important players will be returning from injury soon. Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman returned to the team against Ipswich. England Under-21 international Duncan Watmore is close to returning after being out for nine months; Welsh international midfielder Jonny Williams has been missing of late due to illness; and striker Lewis Grabban could be ready for a return sooner rather than later. Ex-Manchester United utility man Paddy McNair could also be back in training in the near future.

If Sunderland can get these players back to full fitness and into the first team squad sooner rather than later then there might be hope. At the moment, hope is all fans seem to have.

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