Sunderland need to match Stoke’s stability to progress, says ex-Black Cat Danny Higginbotham

Danny Higginbotham in his Sunderland days
Danny Higginbotham in his Sunderland days
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STOKE City’s mid-table solidity should serve as the perfect lesson to Sunderland’s hierarchy about the benefits of continuity, believes Danny Higginbotham.

Since earning promotion to the Premier League in 2008, Stoke have gradually established themselves in the top flight, with Mark Hughes’s side avoiding any flirtation with the relegation dogfight this season.

No-one ever associates Stoke with relegation any more and that is to the full credit of everyone at the football club

Danny Higginbotham

After the seven-year reign of Tony Pulis, Hughes is only the second manager Stoke have had during their Premier League tenure.

By contrast, Dick Advocaat is the seventh permanent Sunderland boss during the same seven-year period.

It’s a damning statistic and, perhaps not surprisingly, has prevented Sunderland progressing to their objective of top-half sanctuary, rather than continually finding themselves in the scrap at the bottom of the table.

“It is not sustainable when you keep making those changes,” said Higginbotham.

“When I got relegated with Southampton and Derby, we had three managers in each of those two seasons.

“Yes, sometimes it can work as a shock effect, as we saw with Paolo Di Canio, but it’s not going to work long-term.

“You can’t have a manager keep coming in, not fancying the players he’s got and then bringing in more new players.

“Just look at Stoke. For their first five years in the Premier League, they had the same manager and then they’ve had Mark Hughes since.

“Sunderland have had seven managers during that time, and that’s not good.

“All the teams that have success and continue to stay in the Premier League are those who have a manager there for the long term.

“No-one ever associates Stoke with relegation any more and that is to the full credit of everyone at the football club.”

Not that Sunderland’s current woes are entirely down to poor management.

Sunderland have spent big in assembling a squad capable of thriving in the Premier League – the likes of Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell all commanding eight-figure transfer fees.

But those players continue to under-perform after their inability to avoid a third successive battle with the drop.

“Yes, of course the players have to take responsibility,” said Higginbotham.

“I got relegated twice and, at the end of the season, I did not look back and blame the manager – I thought why have I not done as well as I should have.

“Sunderland have players who are capable, there is no doubt about that.

“Jermain Defoe, Adam Johnson, Lee Cattermole, John O’Shea, Connor Wickham – that is a team that should stay in the Premier League.”

Inevitably, those players have come in for plenty of flak from supporters after the latest debacle against Crystal Palace nine days ago.

The man in the dug-out may have changed, but it was yet another Stadium of Light capitulation from Sunderland, as they conceded four times for the second time in three home games.

Those quick-fire collapses against Palace and Aston Villa told Higginbotham that this is a side boasting minimal levels of confidence.

He added: “Sunderland’s results have been magnified because of the manner of the defeats – if they had been beaten by Palace 1-0, I don’t think it would have been mentioned as much.

“When you are conceding that many goals, it’s all down to confidence and now it’s whether they can scrap a few results out over the last few weeks.

“It’s not about pretty football now, it’s about the character of the team.

“Do they have the squad to stay up?

“I think so.

“But when your confidence is very low, it is very difficult to get it back.

“You have to grind out results first and foremost.”