EX-SUNDERLAND striker Don Goodman has a vested interest in the relegation battle, with two of his former clubs deep in trouble at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Goodman spoke to CHRIS YOUNG over the struggles experienced by both Sunderland and West Brom this season.
IT WOULD take a brave man to predict with any certainty the three sides destined to spiral out of the Premier League.
Cardiff’s trip to The Hawthorns tomorrow, coupled with Sunderland’s make-or-break Stadium of Light clash against West Ham on Monday, may make the picture a little clearer.
But there is an increasing air of resignation surrounding the bottom five; none of whom seem willing or able to put the points on the board necessary to avoid the drop.
Nestled among that ominous quintet lie both Sunderland and West Brom.
Don Goodman cannot win.
The former Black Cats and Baggies frontman feels one of his former clubs – at least – is destined for the Championship.
Both sides have changed managers in mid-season.
Both clubs have fallen well short of their top-half objectives.
But, crucially, only Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals.
“It’s horrible for me because it’s two clubs that are very close to my heart,” said Goodman, who netted 60 goals in 158 appearances for West Brom before joining Sunderland in 1991.
“Hopefully not, but the law of averages says one of them will go down.
“Cardiff are one of the teams in trouble, but they have scored six in their last two home games.
“They are scoring goals and that is a massive thing.
“That applies particularly to Sunderland and West Brom. Only Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals.”
The Sky Sports pundit added: “It’s something of a surprise on both counts that they’re down there.
“West Brom finished eighth last season and, although there’s nowhere to go in terms of upwards, I still thought they’d be in that eighth to 12th area.
“And with Sunderland finishing strongly last season under Paolo Di Canio, it’s obviously gone terribly wrong.
“Gus is a good manager with real pedigree in the Championship and League One and he plays nice football. “I think that’s the way forward in the Premier League – you only have to look at Southampton for that.
“But he has gone to a club where confidence is reasonably low and he was slightly restricted to what he could do in January. He’s not had the benefit of a couple of windows to bring in the players he wants.”
West Brom’s problems have stemmed from two sources.
The Baggies have been unable to replace the goal threat of Romelu Lukaku after the Belgian netted 17 times in the Premier League last season during his loan spell from Chelsea.
The deadline-day capture of Victor Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon last September, plus the controversial spell of Nicolas Anelka, has failed to come close to replacing that attacking potency.
But Albion’s gamble to remove head coach Steve Clarke in December and replace him with novice Pepe Mel has seen the club trickle down the table too.
“Lukaku has gone on to show why he was so important and, obviously, with Steve Clarke, the decision was based on an extended period from the New Year where they struggled to win games,” said Goodman.
“Jeremy Peace (West Brom chairman) is not one to shy away from the tough decisions. He’s showed that in the past when he sacked Roberto Di Matteo and that one worked out really well with Roy Hodgson.
“This time, it’s had the opposite effect. The apple cart has been knocked too much.
“It’s not an experienced guy like Roy Hodgson. It’s someone who knows nothing really about the Premier League and that is what makes it a much bigger gamble.
“Steve Clarke had at least been an assistant to Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish and had more than 10 years of Premier League experience.
“Unless West Brom survive, it’s not looking like a good gamble.”
Sunderland’s managerial change was far more of an enforced decision after the explosive reign of Di Canio ultimately saw the players rebel against the Italian, following the Black Cats’ defeat at West Brom in September.
And Goodman believes Di Canio’s departure highlighted the importance of man-management for those looking to enjoy any long-term success in the dug-out.
“Some of the rumours about Paolo Di Canio didn’t sound good,” said the 47-year-old.
“It didn’t sound like the kind of regime that gave a happy dressing room. That’s not going to get you results.
“It worked short-term at the end of last season because they got results and it had the desired effect.
“But I always think it is difficult to be a Premier League manager when you are dealing with multi-millionaires.
“To get them all happy and all onboard and buying into what you want to do can be very difficult. There are egos to deal with.
“You have to be more than a manager.
“You have to be able to man-manage and it seems to me that the players are more on-side with Gus than Paolo.”
While Sunderland’s fortunes have improved significantly under Poyet, the Black Cats still face an uphill task to avoid the drop.
Sunderland still have four members of the bottom half to face at the Stadium of Light, yet they have notoriously struggled in those high-stakes encounters all season.
“They have made life extremely difficult for themselves,” added Goodman.
“I did take a peek at the fixtures to come and they’ve got a tough run-in to say the least.
“But, on the flip side of that, it seems they are a group of players that seem to do reasonably well against the bigger clubs.
“That is why they are in big trouble. They struggle against the sides they are expected to beat.
“They have got nine cup finals and they need to win at least three of them, maybe four.”
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