Sunderland lost ground in the race for the Championship play-offs last night when they went down to a 1-0 defeat against Hull City at the Stadium of Light.
It was a result that saw the Black Cats slip to eighth in the table, whilst the Tigers moved into sixth. It was the Wearsiders third successive defeat in all competitions and they could finish the day as low as 11th if results go against them later this afternoon.
It’s not the change in fortunes the club were hoping for when they made the decision to sack Tony Mowbray in early December, when a 1-1 draw with Millwall saw them drop to ninth. A mini revival followed under the interim guidance of Mike Dodds, beating both West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United before a defeat against Bristol City.
An extensive search for Mowbray’s successor ended on December 18th when the club confirmed the appointment of ex-QPR and Rangers boss Michael Beale. It was a surprising announcement and one that was considered as arguably underwhelming.
The 43-year-old has overseen just two wins in his seven games in charge, a run which also saw a disappointing 1-1 draw with basement side Rotherham United. Last night’s drab affair was met with displeasure from the home crowd, prompting the question as to whether Beale is already under pressure.
What Next For Michael Beale?
It’s fair to say that Sunderland’s next fixtures are pivotal. They will be expected to beat Stoke City next weekend but the trip to the Riverside to face North East rivals Middlesbrough the following week will be a tough task. After that, they face four teams all occupying a place in the bottom half of the table and the picture could look very different by the end of February.
Rotherham aside, Beale took over the club at the start of a tough run of games. We’ll never know if Mowbray would have fared any better, but it was last night’s performance which will be a cause for concern.
Last season’s play-off semi-finalists had 15 shots compared to Hull’s two, but only three of those landed on target. They say the stats don’t lie, although this one paints a picture that Sunderland were perhaps unlucky. The truth is they weren’t, and they failed to craft anything of real note.
Their issues in front of goal have been well documented, with their 37 league goals this season the lowest out of the clubs currently sat in the top 10. Summer signing Nazariy Rusyn has just one goal to his name but made some intelligent runs last night which failed to be spotted by his teammates. Last night, the issue wasn’t the Ukrainian, it was the lack of creativity behind him.
Deadlock broken 🔓
Fabio Carvalho gives Hull the lead against Sunderland! pic.twitter.com/y1TG7B5KK9
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 19, 2024
There are rumours that a bid for League Two’s top goalscorer Macaulay Langstaff may emerge before the end of the transfer window. However, the most concerning aspect is the constant speculation surrounding talisman Jack Clarke, who is attracting heavy Premier League interest.
Sunderland must strengthen before the end of the window but keeping hold of Clarke will also have a major impact on whether this team is capable of a top six finish. The 23-year-old has been involved in over 40% of the club’s league goals this season and his potential departure would be a huge blow.
Should Sunderland Have Stuck With Tony Mowbray?
Mowbray was a popular figure at the Stadium of Light. He performed wonders to secure a play-off spot last season and rumours of his departure last summer were met with disbelief.
The 60-year-old survived and guided the team into this season, flirting with the top six places throughout the opening months of the campaign. The tightness of the division meant that dropping points was not always a disaster, although there were murmurs that his position was under threat following the home loss against relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town in November. Three days later, he was gone after the draw with Millwall.
The ex-West Brom boss wasn’t out of work for long and was snapped up by Birmingham City following Wayne Rooney’s sacking earlier this month. He secured a place in the FA Cup fourth round this week with a 2-1 win, ironically against Hull.
Mowbray’s experience may have seen them pick up more points during this recent run of fixtures, but it seems as if the Sunderland board were almost looking for an excuse to bring in a new head coach. Hindsight now shows that dismissing him may have been a knee jerk reaction and it’s odd that we’re already 20 days into the transfer window with no arrivals having been confirmed.
Their lack of transfer activity could see the six-time English champions fall short in their bid to reach the top tier this season, which will ultimately make the task much more difficult moving forward. Failure to achieve promotion could see a number of stars targeted by Premier League clubs, including the aforementioned Clarke should they retain his services this month, goalkeeper Anthony Patterson and playmaker Jobe Bellingham.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right
Whilst popular in some sections, Mowbray did have his critics amongst the fanbase. It’s maybe not a case as to whether it was the right decision to sack him, it’s more as to whether Beale was the right choice to be chosen as his successor.
It hasn’t gone down well with the supporters and it’s already starting to have a similar feel to that seen at Birmingham when Rooney replaced the popular John Eustace.
It’s already difficult to see Beale surviving the campaign. He’s going to need an almighty shift in form to win over his doubters. Whilst the writing isn’t already on the wall, the spray paint is being readied and it could be a turbulent few weeks for the former Aston Villa coach.