Sunderland will pay for their crazy decision
Published 03/04/2013 | 08:00
There was I thinking that you might think it unfair of me to judge Sunderland's chances of surviving in the Premier League on a defeat by the Champions-elect – then they sacked Martin O'Neill. The timing, if not the act, is absolutely bonkers.
There can be no hiding the wretchedness of Sunderland's performance on Saturday.
Manchester United fielded a weakened side and didn't need to break sweat to take the points. Sunderland were pathetic. David De Gea made his one and only save in the 90th minute and it was from a bumbling 'shot' by substitute Connor Wickham; talk about cigars and deck-chairs.
O'Neill had finally accepted the need to have two strikers on the pitch when he brought Wickham on with just 13 minutes left. Adam Johnson barely disguised his disgust at being the player taken off but the England international should look in the mirror. He was awful. Mind you, so were the others in red and white stripes.
They are without a win in eight league games, a run in which they've taken only three points. I remember commentating at the Stadium of Light at the end of November watching a dismal 0-0 draw with QPR who'd just appointed Harry Redknapp. I was confused as to which team was most threatened by relegation and it's got worse since for the Mackems.
Not everything can be laid at O'Neill's door. He's lost two very important players to injury, leading scorer Steven Fletcher (not saying much, he's got 11 goals) and the captain Lee Cattermole, both now out for the rest of the season. But, arguably, Fletcher is the only one of the manager's signings that has remotely come off. Johnson? Danny Graham?
And, unfortunately like many of the Ulsterman's previous sides, unforgivable to their passionate supporters, Sunderland are so unattractive to watch. On Saturday they didn't even have the 'fight' that normally characterises O'Neill charges.
However, this is just a silly time to sack him. They've only got seven games left to play and it's a horrible run-in. Only the home matches against Stoke and the fast-improving Southampton seem 'winnable'
Whatever faith chairman Ellis Short has in his new miracle-worker, Paolo Di Canio is as bonkers a choice as it was to decide to dispense with O'Neill.
He has already divided opinion inside the club –witness David Milliband's departure and supporters vowing not to renew their season tickets.
Anyhow I doubt even Sir Alex Ferguson has the nous to turn around Sunderland's fortunes at this stage.
Aston Villa and Wigan are just one point behind. Wigan, the great escapologists, have a game in hand. I know who I'd back. And history doesn't offer support for Sunderland: they've sacked managers before when facing relegation – Howard Wilkinson 10 years ago and Mick McCarthy in 2006 – and still went down.
As for O'Neill, it'll depend on whether or not he still has fight in him. I used to, but I don't know him well now – he still hasn't quite forgiven me for criticism I made of his Leicester City side after they'd won a League Cup replay – but there are reports that the Sunderland situation was putting him under great strain.
It wasn't so long ago he was tipped for Anfield or Old Trafford.