Roker Reflections: Turn for the better must come quickly

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THERE will be no need to impress upon the Sunderland board how careful they must be in their choice of a manager to build on the excellent foundation which have been laid by Mr Alan Brown.

From extremely limited resources he produced a playing framework of great potential and, at the same time, was the inspiration behind a training complex at Washington New Town which is second to none in Britain.

Both are major assets and the board now faces the hazardous task of ensuring that they are maintained and developed to the best possible advantage.

Choice of the right man for the job is not easy, because this is a highly professional task and there must be a full appreciation of professional standards and pressures before arriving at a decision.

No one appreciates better than they do the limitations under which Mr Brown undertook his rebuilding responsibilities and through there is the promise of a change in the situation regarding the availability of finance, not all of the limitations will be swept aside for the new manager.

Understandably, caution rules for the moment. After their weekly board meeting on Thursday night, when a massive postal application for the post was given due consideration, the only statement which Chairman Keith Collings was able to make was that the matter had been considered, but no comment was possible at this stage.

Whether there will be a quiet quickening in the process of seeking out the man whose qualities appear to fit the occasion remains to be seen. But the certainty is that time is not on their side in what may well be regarded as a last chance of climbing away from the disastrous situation inherited four years ago and back into the big-time more in keeping with the club’s better traditions.

A show of urgency would have been welcomed some time ago. Now it is imperative that the time factor is given due regard as they seek to revitalise a deteriorating situation.

A figure which has been widely quoted since it was first revealed to shareholders at the annual meeting in September is that liabilities stand at £250,000. But this must be considerably out of date by now.

The accounts covered the period up to May 31, but since then they have met summer wages and running costs without income and in the 14 weeks of the current season there has been an estimate loss of £2,000 a week with average home gates of 14,168 falling so far below the break-even figure of 22,000.

The turn for the better must come quickly and dramatically if the rescue operation is to be effective.

Last week’s performance against Aston Villa brought a measure of reassurance for those who were in some doubt over what the team’s reaction might be to the change of control. They were left in no doubt that the foundation for a good side has been well and truly laid, with enough spirit showing through to ensure that progress is still being chased.

Because Villa were much less defence-minded than the majority of visitors to Roker Park, Sunderland were able to develop the kind of play which has impressed onlookers at their away games.

Once again, however, it was a case of playing well enough to win, but being unable to grab the vital goals. There must eventually be a pay-off for this kind of effort and, whether it is to be claimed from present resources or from talent yet to be recruited, it could well prove to be a huge stride towards a happier and more profitable future.

Caretaker manger Billy Elliott must have been well pleased with the contributions made by recalled players Billy Hughes, Brian Chambers, and Keith Coleman. Output from all three was of a high standard and fitted well with the team’s mood.

Chambers may hare been a little too keen to please, for his play tapered off after a brilliant first half. This was perhaps understandable, because he was having his first outing of the season at top team level and it was made in a game which was fought out at a cracking pace from start to finish.

The next change is the big one, however, with Dave Watson making is first appearance in Sunderland’s colours at centre half in this afternoon’s game against Carlisle United at Brunton Park.

One game may not prove a great deal, but if over a series of games Watson can bring the necessary authority to the position which is so vital to defensive strategy, this could be a long-term solution to a burning problem.

Story taken from the Football Echo on November 11 1972.