Phil Parkinson is a man under pressure and Sunderland owner Stewart Donald has another big decision to make
Phil Parkinson is a man under pressure.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s debacle at home to Burton Albion, the enormity of the job at Sunderland was clear to see as Parkinson spoke in the Stadium of Light press room.
If Parkinson wasn’t aware of the size of the task he was taking on before, then he certainly is now.
Just 11 games into his Sunderland reign and fans are already calling for his head.
In the final stages of the limp defeat to Burton, Sunderland failed to register a single shot on target after going behind with more than 20 minutes to play in a game they needed to win.
Weeks of frustration boiled over and chants of ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ could he heard loud and clear, initially from the Roker End and then from all corners of the ground.
The fury then turned to the players, with fans chanting ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ as they limped to the seventh defeat of Parkinson’s time in charge. Seven defeats in 11.
It is - by anyone’s standards - a shocking record. And more worrying is the manner and style of the defeats.
The direct style Parkinson wants to play simply does not suit this set of players. A squad of players, who it must be said, are underperforming badly.
What was most concerning post-match was this comment from Parkinson: “On Saturday we conceded and responded well, kept going and got a reward, this time we conceded and stopped playing.
“Didn’t show enough conviction or character and deservedly got booed off at the end.”
‘Stopped playing’ - that is a damning statement. And one that doesn’t reflect well on anyone, the players or the manager and coaching staff.
It is unforgivable.
At the very least - the very least - Sunderland’s passionate fanbase demands and rightly expects a team to give their all, commitment to the end. This group has fallen well below that basic standard.
And it has heaped huge pressure on Parkinson, who is coming under increasing fire from supporters, with what now seems the majority of the fanbase of the opinion that he is not the right man to win promotion this season.
Some will argue 11 games is not enough and that he hasn’t had the time on the training pitch and that this is not his squad of players, that the new manager needs at least one transfer window.
All valid points. Sadly, whoever replaced Jack Ross was never going to get a so-called honeymoon period. Time is precious and the stakes incredibly high this season. Sunderland need promotion.
While it is only November, any hopes of automatic promotion already seem to have vanished, with Sunderland already a whopping nine points off the top two.
Sunderland are down in 11th. 11th. Incredible. And they don’t even have a huge amount of games in hand either, just one on some of the teams in the play-off spaces.
Say what you like about Ross but Sunderland did not lose too many under him. The Black Cats have already lost seven under the former Bolton boss in a little over a month.
This is very much a crisis. Parkinson and the players felt the brunt of it on Tuesday evening and while seemingly the tide has turned against the manager, only the opinion of one man matters. Stewart Donald.
The Sunderland owner handed Parkinson a two-and-a-half year deal when he was unveiled on October 17.
Donald is now facing his biggest decision since taking over - just six weeks after his last biggest decision.
Parkinson was the man deemed the perfect choice to lead the club to promotion this season. Getting that appointment right was Donald’s biggest decision since taking charge of the club.
And now here we are just weeks later with another big decision looming - does he sack or back Parkinson?
January is just around the corner, though Sunderland have another four games before that point.
If Donald retains full faith in Parkinson then he MUST be backed in January with the five signings, or so, he is targeting.
With more pace, goals and athleticism needed in the side and ultimately more quality too. Fans would question whether Parkinson deserves that opportunity given his record to date.
If he survives, then Parkinson must also get a lot more out of the players at his current disposal and consider changing the way he wants to play, drop the more direct approach, until he can get those type of players in.
The 10-day break in fixtures means a welcome lengthy spell on the training pitch and it could prove pivotal.
When Parkinson was unveiled, Donald said: “I hope that Sunderland fans will all join me in welcoming him to our historic club, as we look forward to an exciting few months.”
Exciting? It has been anything but.
Recent ‘performances’ against Leicester City, Scunthorpe United, Gillingham (twice), Coventry City and Burton were drab, dire affairs.
Fans will accept poor performances if the team wins. But the football being played currently is neither attractive nor effective.
A combination that will only end one way. This isn’t Parkinson’s team but they were performing to a much higher level before his arrival.
Parkinson has been in football a long time and he has a good track record, one he pointed to in the aftermath of the Burton loss, when asked whether he was the man to turn it around.
But he will know that he is under increasing pressure.
And he will also know that if he survives to lead the team at Gillingham away a week on Saturday, when Sunderland resume their League One campaign, that there needs to be a sharp upturn in performances - and crucially results.
Otherwise his fate will be sealed. The pressure is mounting on Parkinson but it is also mounting on Donald and the Sunderland board, with fan frustrations growing.
Genuine concerns over the future direction of the club, the vision, the lack of football structure at the club, the recruitment record of the last two years, the growing disconnect between club and fans - something the new owners had worked so hard to restore when they took over.
The mood on Wearside is as bleak as the weather at the moment, it never rains but it pours. Every week, a new low, just when fans thought the club couldn’t sink any further.
One positive? The season is not a total write-off just yet. The play-offs are within reach and it could still prove a successful campaign.
The signs at the moment though paint the exact opposite picture. At some point, enough will be enough. It’s down to Donald to decide when that point is reached and what the plan is next.
Until then, it’s down to Parkinson to prove he can turn the tide on Wearside and start stringing together the run of wins needed before it is too late for him and Sunderland.