Martin O’Neill has a reputation as a good manager, coming to Sunderland with the view to push them up the table and firmly establish them as a mid-table Premier League club. He came in last year and kept the club in the league, significantly improving a side that had struggled under Steve Bruce, however, this season results have not been as good with Sunderland now sitting in 17th, just a point above Southampton.
O’Neill’s men have been in poor form, losing four of their last six games. Their one victory coming against Fulham, who played the majority of the game with ten men. The main issue on this run has been an inability to score goals, having scored just 13 Premier League goals so far. This wouldn’t be as bad if the club were tight at the back, but having let in 18 goals, things clearly aren’t watertight. The signing of Fletcher for £14 million was supposed to rectify a shortage of goals, with the Scottish striker scoring an impressive six times in 13 appearances. The problem is he only has scored 1 goal in his last 8 appearances for Sunderland which is a worry considering the lack of other striking options O’Neill has at his disposal.
The clubs other strikers are just not fancied. Frazier Campbell has one start, whilst Saha has made all his ten appearances from the bench and Ji Dong-Won has yet to feature. More worryingly Campbell and Saha are both without goals this season, leaving most of the scoring burden on Fletcher who has scored almost half of Sunderland’s league goals this season, suggesting an over-reliance.
Things might get worse before they get better for Sunderland who face Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Man City and Man United in their next seven games. A run in where it looks difficult to see where Sunderland will pick up points and where the side’s confidence could take a real battering. A home game against Reading and a trip to Southampton wedged in between those games will be key, as beating the sides around them will push them up the league. This has actually been an issue lately as Sunderland lost both to Norwich today, Villa last week and failed to beat QPR mid-week. These are the games that can separate Sunderland from the rest of the relegation sides.
Sunderland probably will stay up despite their low position. Players such as Johnson, Sessegnon and Fletcher are capable of providing enough goals to keep them up, but the former two players will need to up their performances. Johnson in particular, came with a good reputation but has not hit the heights for Sunderland yet. One problem the side have is a lack of a midfield creator, leading to slow and impotent attacks. O’Neill might be given money to spend in January, which if he is, should be enough to keep them up. As noted the games against Reading and Southampton are key, win those games and Sunderland may get some breathing space. Hopefully the club will be patient with O’Neill who has been increasingly linked with a resignation in recent weeks. Continually letting managers go is not the answer for teams at the bottom. Wigan’s persistence with Roberto Martinez being a prime example of how patience can pay off.
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