David Jones: I agree with Gary Neville – but Sunderland and Newcastle can fight decline

Sunderland fans celebrate beating Newcastle
Sunderland fans celebrate beating Newcastle
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A problem shared is a problem halved so the saying goes but it doesn’t much feel like it.

The only consolation for fans of Sunderland and Newcastle studying the Premier League table right now is the ineptitude of their rivals.

I worry that the north of England will end up with only a token presence in the Premier League, with Manchester as an island in a sea of decline,

Gary Neville

Seven games in and neither us – the red and whites nor the black and whites – have managed a victory between us and the mediocrity is nothing new: together we boast a combined seven wins from 52 matches in 2015 (Leicester City have won 11 by themselves).

It’s entirely possible that by the time the Wear-Tyne derby comes round at the end of October both teams will still be looking for their first win.

You might ask why I bring Newcastle United into this column but when journalists and experts who are not from the region start discussing both of our flaws I find it hard to stay quiet, even though there’s not much of it I disagree with.

My Sky Sports colleague Gary Neville, one of the most eloquent commentators on the modern game, started it this weekend.

“I worry that the north of England will end up with only a token presence in the Premier League, with Manchester as an island in a sea of decline,” he said.

It’s Neville’s suspicion that as economic power drifts further to London, so the power base of football will follow making it even harder for the north east clubs to sign top quality players.

Respected scribe Hugh McIlvanney then picked up the debate in the Sunday Times and really struck a chord.

He wrote: “No other region of the country with a remotely comparable enthusiasm for the game has suffered anything approaching the longevity of failure or the repetition of under-achievement endured by the supporters of Newcastle United and Sunderland.”

He’s not wrong.

McIlvanney also acknowledged the unwavering support of both clubs which in some respect remains their only redeeming feature.

It’s extraordinary – and in many ways an incredible success story of Sunderland’s commercial department – that after three years of sustained struggle, more than 40,000 still regularly turn up to the Stadium of Light.

And that beyond all else gives me hope.

Whoever owns the club, whoever pulls on that red and white shirt, the support for a football team in Sunderland remains as strong as ever.

So how does the club give the fans a team to be proud of again?

For starters, the short-termism has to stop.

I winced when I saw the stories linking Patrick Vieira and others with Dick Advocaat’s job in the papers.

As far as I know the transfer window is closed until January so we have to get on with what we’ve got; and that includes offering the manager as much support as we can.

We need to create an identity that with all this chopping and changing has been missing for too long.

To his credit Gus Poyet tried to implement a possession-based passing game but it became too ponderous and merely served to nullify us as an attacking force.

Far better in hindsight to play to our strengths; demand the players show as much passion as the supporters with a return to the high intensity – not kick and rush – football which served us so well under Peter Reid.

Look how much more effective Newcastle were against Chelsea by trading a possession game for an old fashioned “in your face” approach – it’s what serves us in the north east best.

We have got to make visiting the Stadium of Light an unpleasant experience again for visiting teams.

And if you have a strong identity it’s much easier to sell the club’s vision to new players – that’s what Swansea have been able to do since Roberto Martinez took over when the club was in League One.

If it’s only getting harder to attract players to the northeast then our scouting needs to get smarter.

Have a glance at the Premier League’s top scorers so far: Vardy, Mahrez, Wilson and Ighalo; none signed for big money and all with unfashionable clubs. It can be done.

Our youngsters top the U21 Premier League; clearly the talent is there, we’ve invested in them and now we need to give them a chance to shine.

Bringing through our best young players into the first team has to be the way forward if we want to work to becoming a sustainable football club.

Unfortunately all of the above takes time and that’s not something we have on our side.

We have to face reality, we can’t keep pulling off miracle escapes; there could be some short-term pain just around the corner.

But that doesn’t mean we as a region, or as a club, are in interminable decline; as long as our enthusiasm for the game endures then so will the spirit of Sunderland.