Chris Young column - Peter Reid proved fans can be won over again

Sunderland fans at Bradford
Sunderland fans at Bradford
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A FRACTIOUS, unpleasant afternoon in the away end.

Some supporters calling for the manager to be given the boot as progress appeared to have reached a grinding halt, while others defended the miraculous job he had done at Sunderland up to that point.

No, not Valley Parade last weekend. Vale Park in August 1997. It still remains vivid in my memory.

Sunderland, newly-relegated from the Premier League, were comfortably swatted aside by Port Vale and anger inevitably turned towards Peter Reid after the manner of such a measly loss, despite the Scouser taking the Black Cats back to the top flight just over a year earlier.

It’s a comparison well worth making with Sunderland’s current plight, even if Gus Poyet believes there is too much harking back to the glory days of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn.

At that early stage of the season, Reid had already paired Phillips with Quinn, but was yet to land Nicky Summerbee, bring young blood into central defence or deploy Micky Gray and Allan Johnston together in that devastating left-sided combination.

It wouldn’t be until the Autumn that Sunderland’s form underwent a significant upsurge.

But Sunderland’s turnaround that season disproved one of those notorious footballing clichés; that once the fans turn their allegiance, there is no going back.

That defeat in the Potteries may have prompted an outpouring of frustration with the man in the dug-out, but it was a red herring for four of the most memorable seasons in Sunderland’s modern history.

It’s not easy to change opinion on the terraces, but it’s far from impossible.

Sam Allardyce may have bizarrely been on the receiving end of some hefty criticism from West Ham fans last weekend, yet there has hardly been an orderly queue forming against him this season.

Allardyce has taken the Hammers to the top eight – only eight points off the Champions League places – and injected far more panache after he looked like a dead man walking at the end of last season.

What both Allardyce has done, and Sunderland’s most successful manager of the last 20 years did similarly, was to win games when it was most needed.

Public opinion can be notoriously fickle if a few victories are put on the board.

However bleak the mood has been on Wearside this week, how many will be calling for Poyet’s removal if Sunderland win the next four games? Only the occupational moaners, that’s who.

It may seem slightly happy-clappy to be suggesting such a winning run after Sunderland are yet to string successive league victories together this season and have triumphed just four times in 25 top flight outings.

But last April, there was little or no indication to suggest Sunderland could put together such a remarkable escape from the drop.

In fact, Poyet was suffering from some of the same problems which have plagued him in the last few weeks – ones that have far more repercussions than anything the Uruguayan says in his post-match press conference.

Like last Spring, Poyet has been desperately searching for a formula – any formula – that produces a win and the experimentation has perhaps gone too far.

It’s all got a bit muddy as a result.

Poyet’s favoured possession-based philosophy has ebbed away, yet hasn’t been replaced by any notable change in tempo or directness.

Jermain Defoe’s signing was arguably one of the best pieces of January business in the Premier League, particularly in a cost-neutral swap deal with Jozy Altidore.

But since Defoe’s signing, Poyet has fiddled with a 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2 and even a good old-fashioned 4-4-2 at Bradford. That’s quite a departure after the head coach stuck rigidly to 4-1-4-1 to January, even during the trial stage of pre-season.

There has been little continuity in terms of personnel either; Poyet yet to name an unchanged line-up in the Premier League this season.

Did Danny Graham and Ricky Alvarez really need to be left out against QPR last week?

Poyet stressed that he wanted to return to the starting XI that triumphed against Burnley, but there was still a tweak with Adam Johnson and Connor Wickham swapping flanks, leaving Patrick van Aanholt with little protection on the left – a deficiency QPR exploited for both goals.

Perhaps the defeat to Bradford will focus minds at the task Sunderland still have ahead of them to ensure cup elimination doesn’t prompt a downwards rut.

Certainly, there is no eagerness in the Stadium of Light corridors of power for any more managerial upheaval. It did not go unnoticed that the squad at Valley Parade was made up of signings from four different bosses.

But the relationship with supporters needs to be mended.

Win a few games though and those wounds will quickly begin to heal.