FPP Sunderland takeover update plus spotlight on transfer business, Jack Ross and League One promotion hopes

Takeover talk continues to dominate the headlines on Wearside with supporters eager for positive news.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 5:36 pm
Sunderland chairman Stewart Donald.

American trio Glenn Fuhrman, John Phelan and Robert Platek are in talks with Stewart Donald over taking charge of Sunderland AFC, with clarity on the deal expected within the next ten days.

Our SAFC writer Phil Smith held a live Q&A with readers with takeover talk high on the agenda plus tactics, transfers, Jack Ross, Will Grigg and recent performances all under the microscope.

Here’s the best of our Q&A:

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Q) Are there any further updates on the impending takeover, when do you think it will happen and any idea yet on what their plans might be for the club?

Phil) No further update to the chairman’s, who says we should know in a week or two.

I know the line about it being ‘better than 50/50’ has worried some but that needs to be put into perspective.

The setting up of a new company by the consortium was a sign that talks are advanced and that they are very serious about the possibility.

That doesn’t mean it will happen, of course.

Timescales aren’t always very helpful with these matters, just because of the sheer number of different parties involved in a deal like this, which means a relatively minor issue can set things back or delay it, without being particularly threatening to the deal itself.

It’s a delicate balance.

In one sense, time is of no significant issue, the transfer window is shut until January and it has always been said that this is about long-term investment and improvements, not the short term.

It’s also got to be seen as a positive that the group are painstaking in their diligence.

If they take over, they will be ready and fully prepared.

Of course, though, uncertainty is not good for any football club and anything that affects future planning, such as contract renewals, recruitment planning, needs to be sorted.

It can be a frustrating process, but hopefully there is no cause for major concern at this stage.

Q) How excited do you think SAFC fans should be about the potential takeover, or will it be a long-term project?

Phil) I think you have to be excited about it when you look at the calibre and past record of the businessman involved.

You would hope that this is a long-term project, though, and Jack Ross has hinted that the conversations he has had, albeit brief ones, have been about structure and sustainability while achieving results.

Sunderland have had big money recently, but what was the legacy?

Did the infrastructure and facilities improve to stand the club in good shape for generations to come?

It’s hard to say that they did.

The game is changing, too.

Financial rules, particularly in the Championship, are being more heavily enforced and the sad demise of Bury will only strengthen that resolve.

Let’s hope it goes through, and we can look forward to hearing all about it.

Q) Ross was coming under-fire earlier this season, was that justified? Will he always be under pressure after every defeat?

Phil) I’m not sure 1,000 words can answer this question, but here goes!

I think we’re probably in a position whereby until Sunderland are in the top two, any result that isn’t a win will draw a lot of scrutiny.

Is that justified?

It’s harsh, but the manager knows the pressure to get the club promoted this season and I don’t think anyone could argue that this is a club that needs to be back in the Championship next season.I didn’t agree with some of the criticism because I think a lot of good things have happened since Jack Ross took charge.

Not every signing has been a success, but I like the move towards bringing in younger, more athletic players who can grow. I’d reference Jordan Willis, Luke O’Nien and George Dobson there.

He’s dealt with a lot of challenges off the pitch and I think he’s been going up against some good squads.

I think Sunderland have squad that should absolutely be up there, but I’m not convinced it’s so much better than the sides around that they should be expected to dominate week in, week out.

That he has a big budget is a statement that is true but needs a lot of context applying, something we’ve talked and written about extensively and so doesn’t need a huge amount of coverage here.

What I’d accept is that it’s fair to expect the side to put in performances that ease the nerves and show they can be a top-two side over the course of the season.

Have they done that so far?

It’s a matter of opinion.

Mine is that they’ve made a lot of progress defensively and hopefully Lynch and Laurens De Bock will improve that further.

In attack, work to be done but since the Peterborough game they’ve created a fair amount with regularity.

A decent start, with work to be done, and the debate around the manager should reflect that.

Q) 10 games in, do you think there are any areas that definitely need strengthening in January?

If Laurens De Bock continues his promising start, then no, not really.

It’ll be as much down to form and injury between now and then.

Could they do with a bit more pace in the final third given Duncan Watmore’s injury problems? Very possibly, but in terms of numbers they’re well stocked.

I also have real hope that Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson can make themselves regular contenders, which expands the squad further.

At this stage it looks a balanced squad and in terms of January, it’s just a question of form and fitness over the next couple of months.

Q) Why do we always give teams a chance to get back into games is it down to fitness and lack of concentration or just an expected comeback from a team?

Phil) It’s difficult because I don’t think there’s a set pattern.

Let’s look at the games where Sunderland took the lead.

Against Rotherham, they didn’t take a big opportunity to extend their lead and for what it’s worth, I see Paul Warne’s unit as a decent XI at this level and they were always going to have a spell in the game.

Against MK Dons they took those chances, and did well enough when the away side stepped it up after the break. It’s just an individual error that gifts away a goal that makes it nervy thereafter.

Against Rochdale, they conceded shortly after going ahead but the home side were playing well.

Can Sunderland be more ruthless going forward? Absolutely.

But there needs to be a context here.

Sunderland have only dropped two points from winning positions so far this season, and they are defending their box much, much better for the most part.

If anything, the biggest improvement they could make is in starting better and taking control of the game.

Q) Do you think Jordan Willis will stay as skipper?

Phil) I think Grant is a good choice as club captain and I don’t see it changing.

In my opinion captaincy is more about what you bring off the pitch. Keeping the dressing room together, showing leadership in setting the standards and instilling a culture of professionalism.

Leadbitter is perfect for that and he’s also the perfect ambassador for a club and a city that he loves.

On the pitch, you need a host of leaders, not just one.

In that sense I think it’s a debate always a little bit overblown.

On Jordan Willis, though, that he was handed the armband on Saturday tells you everything about he’s viewed behind the scenes.

Young but with bags of experience and maturity beyond his years.

He has been impressive this season, he’s got pace and aerial ability and is growing in composure on the ball.

It’s exactly the kind of signing Sunderland need to make over and over again.

The capacity to make an immediate improvement to the side, but with significant room for growth and with a big resale value.

He’s been good and a potential future captain? I see no reason why not.

Q) What tactics, system and formation will get the best out of Will Grigg?

Phil) Generally speaking, Will Grigg has performed best as the sole striker in a 4-2-3-1.

That was certainly the backbone of his success at Wigan Athletic, where he played in front of a trio of attacking midfielders that included the talismanic Nick Powell.

It was generally a pretty similar shape at MK Dons.

He’s often said that he’s most used to playing that system and leading the line on his own.

In truth, it’s not really much different to the shape Sunderland play now.

Jack Ross stresses to either Chris Maguire or Luke O’Nien that they are to stay high and get alongside the main striker, so it’s more like a 4-4-2.

It’s not so different, though, that you would expect his form to dip.

So why hasn’t it quite come off?

It’s so difficult to judge.

For what it’s worth, I think at times he has looked bright this season.

There have been some decent cameos off the bench and he almost scored a superb goal against AFC Wimbledon. Sometimes these are the fine margins.

He was given a big chance at Bolton Wanderers and it wasn’t until the home side scored that he really started to get into the game.

It’s been clear in recent weeks what Ross wants from his centre-forward.

Make early runs off the shoulder, stretch the play. Marc McNulty has done it superbly when selected.

Can Grigg pull that role off?

Absolutely, he did it very well when first arriving, but those missed chances seemed to take their toll.

It’s a two-way process.

When he plays, you feel Sunderland could make more of his skills, keeping the ball for longer in the final third and allowing him to find good positions in the box.

For his part, he needs a goal to build that confidence.

Q) Why does the manager keep bringing back Grigg, Wyke and Flanagan when they are so obviously not good enough?

That’s very harsh.

Tom Flanagan has played his part in two pretty impressive cup wins.

It’s obvious that Sunderland needed to strengthen at the heart of defence and any analysis of Flanagan’s performances there need to start with the recognition that he had not often done in his career before moving here, certainly not in a side that sees so much of the ball in the game.

That latter task is probably where he has struggled most.

With Joel Lynch breaking through superbly, he is probably fourth-choice now, and it may well be we see him more standing in in the fullback positions he’s thrived in at previous clubs.

It’s a much better balance for the manager.

As for Grigg and Wyke, both can do more but both have shown signs of improvement.

I think it’s fair to say Marc McNulty has established himself as first choice for now but both are going to have a big part to play.

Q) How do assess the start made by SAFC this season now we are ten games in? Looks a really competitive division!

Phil) Yep, it looks super competitive.

Ipswich are setting the pace and their form looks to be built on an incredibly resilient defence so far.

Their stats suggest they’re not as far ahead as other teams as they look but you have to respect the results they’re churning out.

It’s tough to see them going anywhere.

As for the other main contenders, the teams I’ve been really impressed by Coventry City, who are full of pace and attacking quality.

Fleetwood Town recruited well and invested heavily in the summer, and their performances have been very good.

I expect them both to challenge.

Peterborough and Portsmouth will get up there or thereabouts, I think, but the early signs are that it will be pretty tight in the top ten.

So in that context, Sunderland’s start is OK, and with potentially big opportunity to kick on if they can produce a consistent run of results.