Phil Smith: Appointment of next Sunderland manager will be a defining moment in Martin Bain’s tenure

Martin Bain
Martin Bain
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Martin Bain, it seems, is finally closing in on his man.

Derek McInnes has been seen as the most likely contender ever since news broke that Rangers legend Walter Smith had been called in to advise on replacing David Moyes.

The Aberdeen manager played for Smith during his first spell as manager at Ibrox, and has found him a firm advocate ever since.

When Mark Warburton left the Glasgow club earlier this year, Smith very publicly banged the drum for McInnes, though the job, in the end, went to Pedro Caixinha.

The two butted heads late last season when Caixinha said Aberdeen were coming to the end of their cycle near the top of Scottish football. McInnes told him he should be embarrassed to finish below the Dons.

Smith’s words, it would seem, had a greater impression on Bain than they had on the Rangers power-brokers and, while other options have been diligently explored, McInnes always seemed to be ahead of the pack.

There is much still to be resolved, but the smart money seems to be on ex-Bristol City manager McInnes taking his second post in the Championship at the Stadium of Light.

If that is the case, it is an appointment that will do much to shape the perception of Bain and his time on Wearside.

McInnes will be seen very much as his appointment, as the decision to bring Smith into the fold was.

After a turbulent year in which his openness was praised but other decisions, such as a trip to New York and staff redundancies, came under fire, fans are sceptical about the future of the club.

The task of the new manager is to inspire, rebuild and, above all else, reignite a club and its fanbase that has understandably been worn down by one of the limpest relegations in memory.

If McInnes takes the job and transpires not to be the right man do that, Bain may find that many fans turn their attention to both him and, of course, chairman Ellis Short.

David Moyes took the brunt of the blame for last season’s disaster, but such has been the sustained decline of the team’s fortunes, and much of that, it must be said, was set in motion long before Bain’s arrival, that it may not be so clear-cut next time around.

Bain set his stall out from the off to target an experienced campaigner for the Sunderland post.

The extraordinary rise under Roy Keane, from his appointment in 2006, has been seen as a one-off, not relevant given Sunderland’s dramatically changed circumstances financially, and a ‘glamour appointment’ was never on the cards.

It is a gamble when the morale of the fanbase is low, and the image of the previous manager so toxic.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the arrival of McInnes.

At both St Johnstone and Aberdeen, he has taken to clubs drifting and instilled pride and resilience, teams known first and foremost for their graft. He has worked the transfer market well and overachieved.

Do that at Sunderland and he will find himself an immensely popular figure.

If he cannot, then suspicions of cronyism will be rife and Bain may find himself under pressure from fans.

The initial reaction to McInnes has been positive, with those unsure willing to give him a chance.

Sunderland need that unity, and above else they need Walter Smith to have recommended wisely. Martin Bain, perhaps, needs it too.