The stats giving Steve Parkin and Phil Parkinson encouragement in the early days of their Sunderland tenure
It has been a whirlwind 12 days for Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin.
Since taking charge on Wearside, time to work with the players has been sparse.
The trip to Oxford United on Tuesday night is their fourth game and their third long journey on the road.
It represents a significant opportunity, undoubtedly. Not just the chance to take a place in the last eight of the Carabao Cup, which is almost certain to bring the reward of a tie against Premier League opposition, but also the chance to make a statement against a side flying in League One.
Results so far have been mixed, an emphatic win over Tranmere Rovers offset by two disappointing defeats at Wycombe Wanderers and Shrewsbury Town.
The performance at Adams Park was poor, but assistant Parkin saw much to be encouraged by at Shrewsbury.
In particular, the work-rate and attacking output has given the new management team confidence that results are on the way.
“We're looking forward to a normal week if you like, where we can work with the boys on the training pitch,” Parkin said.
“Their attitude has been first class, the statistics that come back on the physical side of things are very important these days. We insist they put sweat on the shirt and they've certainly done that, some of the stats at the weekend were off the chart.
“People might look at that and say, ‘yeah but you didn't win the game’, but if the effort is there then I'm sure the results will come.
“When you enjoy winning and you like winning, the losing really hurts, no matter how you lose.
“But you then have to break it down and put into perspective what kind of defeat it is.
“There certainly is a way to lose and way not to lose.
“Sometimes you just have to take it on the chin and Saturday was not one of those.
“If there's a lack of effort or commitment, or a performance where you feel as if the players have let you down, then that's a different thing.
“Saturday certainly wasn't that.
“They gave everything for us and we just weren't able to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Sunderland hit the woodwork three times in that contest, though Parkin admits that their tally of two shots on target is something they need to improve going forward.
“If you put both performances together, goodness knows how many crosses we've put into the box across the two.
“It was 30-odd at the weekend, with 16 attempts at goal, though obviously only a few of those were on target which is not quite good enough.
“But we need to make sure we create enough opportunities for our front players to score and over the last two games we've certainly done that.
“That's what we'll try and do for the rest of the season but without being gung-ho. You need that structure and a base which we certainly did in the home game and in the game at the weekend, especially in the second half.”
Sunderland is the third club that Parkin has assisted Parkinson at.
The pair have worked together for eight years, starting at Bradford City before moving onto Bolton Wanderers.
Parkin says a mutual trust is the key to their success, and hailed Parkinson’s ‘diligence’ in his work.
“We just trust in each other, really,” he said.
“Phil is very organised and professional in how he goes about things, he doesn't miss a trick when he's visualizing things really.
“He's very diligent in his work both on the opposition and his own team.
“In the build-up to the match he likes to take the training on and work with the team.
“I've been taking it with Potts [John Potter] in the early part of the week or the day before a game, and I've enjoyed working with him as well.
“We just have that trust really and it's worked well over the eight years.
“With the exception of last season and everything that was going off, we've had a fair amount of success.
“Long may it continue.”
The pair enjoyed famous cup success at Bradford City, leading the League Two side all the way to the final of this competition.
They also knocked Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea out of the FA Cup with a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge, before going on to beat Gus Poyet’s Sunderland 2-0 at Valley Parade.
Though the pair know they will be judged on league performance, Parkin insists they are taking this chance to reach the quarter final ‘very seriously’.
“We'll take tomorrow's game very seriously,” he said.
"We have been lucky enough to have two amazing cup runs with Bradford which were life-changing really in terms of experience, and we will be giving these players the message that this is in an important game and one that we want to win to progress.
“While the priority is being successful in this division, there is nothing better than going on a cup run to lift any town or city.
"We've got first-hand experience of that and it is definitely true - it can build momentum and confidence in the squad and the staff.
"I'm sure the players would love to win tomorrow night and draw a big one in the next round."