Chris Young column: No going back now

LONG SEASON AHEAD: Steven Fletcher watches as Crystal Palace seal the win.
LONG SEASON AHEAD: Steven Fletcher watches as Crystal Palace seal the win.
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GOING down. Sack the manager. New recruits signed on the cheap. Best players sold. Lightweight central midfield.

All statements that have been uttered from the lips of Sunderland fans after five days which have prompted a succession of doom prophecies.

But turn the clock back to the start of 2013 and such damning indictments would be equally applicable to an Aston Villa side plummeting towards the Championship.

By the end of January, Villa had taken just 20 points from 24 Premier League outings and nestled precariously above basement boys QPR in the relegation zone.

Look what happened next though.

Villa survived with a flourish – their 6-1 rout of Paolo Di Canio’s side in April was arguably one of the best opposition performances of the season against Sunderland, particularly given the stakes on the encounter.

And now Villa look a club transformed.

Suddenly, Paul Lambert can boast a bright and ambitious young side, with pace, power and players battle-hardened by experiencing the Premier League dogfight.

Bleating on about Sunderland “needing time” to form some harmony after a summer of such wholesale ins and outs never generates much sympathy.

Supporters need to see signs of progress on the pitch – even if they don’t accompany results – and there have been precious few of those over the season’s opening fortnight.

But last season, Villa indeed showed the benefits of taking a deep breath and resisting the temptation to petulantly jump up and down on the panic button.

They faced a situation just as tumultuous as Sunderland’s too.

The prize assets of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young had departed, the central midfield options of Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Stephen Ireland looked susceptible, while there was a hangover from the previous season’s narrow escape.

The new incumbent of the dug-out, Lambert, boasted dramatic ideas for changing the team’s style into a far more attractive approach.

But it took months to overcome those obstacles and for the training ground work to come to fruition.

Equally, it needed the huge contribution of 19-goal Christian Benteke. Di Canio will need something similar from Jozy Altidore or Steven Fletcher, if his own “revolution” is to bear fruit.

Villa’s successful transformation won’t have gone unnoticed by Ellis Short.

The Black Cats owner is a close confidante of his opposite number at Villa and fellow American Randy Lerner, and both have spent the past couple of years attempting to put the Premier League’s finances back in order.

Lerner has made a decisive attempt to cut Villa’s cloth after the vast indulgence of the Martin O’Neill era.

Likewise, Short spearheaded the Premier League’s self-imposed cap on plundering the new television deal on wages.

Balancing the books has to be the way forward after football’s boom or bust era.

Given Sunderland’s debts and the limits of Financial Fair Play, the club have needed to take dramatic steps on the balance sheet.

Many supporters have questioned why the likes of Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon have been sold and replaced with cheaper alternatives, when Sunderland’s Premier League peers seem determined to continue spending with reckless abandon.

It’s a fair point, particularly with Uefa offering such flimsy answers on the sanctions facing clubs if they ignore the financial restrictions.

But Sunderland can only put their own shop in order and ensure the long-term future of the club is not in jeopardy.

Sunderland’s overall transfer blueprint of buying promising young players, developing them and selling them on for a profit is a model which supporters seemed to appreciate during the summer too.

Throw in a couple of eye-catching signings, in Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini, and there was a genuine enthusiasm for the new direction this season.

Two things have conspired to banish that enthusiasm.

Firstly, there has been little encouragement on the field and few signs of a dramatic change from under O’Neill.

Even when Villa were struggling last season, they still won at Anfield, the Stadium of Light and the Etihad (albeit in the Capital One Cup).

Those fragments give supporters belief to keep the faith, even if the majority of results are indifferent.

And the second element of woe on Wearside has been the nature of their last-gasp recruits in the window.

The loan signings of Ki Sung-Yeung and Fabio Borini, plus a one-year deal for Andrea Dossena, have smacked of Sunderland scouring around for cut-price options, rather than adhering to the transfer model envisaged earlier in the summer.

But Sunderland have set out their stall.

They have established an all-Italian backroom managerial team and a dramatically re-configured squad.

There is no going back now.

Like Villa though, there may be bleak days ahead before Sunderland embrace the new direction.

The question is whether they can do that quickly enough.