Worrying times on Wearside for Martin O'Neill.
When you look back to last weekend’s EPL fixtures, Brendan Rodgers returning to Swansea City for the first time with Liverpool, and Chelsea playing host to Premier League champions Manchester City should have been excellent advertisements for English football.
However, both matches failed to live up to their hype, easily being overshadowed by Sunderland’s home match against high-flying WBA.
On paper, this sounded like a dull affair, in reality it turned out to be an enthralling contest. Six goals, one penalty and a goalkeeper howler only touches upon what supporters witnessed at the Stadium of Light. Not a game for the football purists maybe, but great entertainment for the true football fan.
Fast-forward to Monday morning, and instead of discussing that pulsating game of football, the talk emanating out of the Sunderland centred on the position of manager Martin O’Neill.
The club moved quickly to publicly quell the rumors that O’Neill had quit or offered to resign, with Chairman Ellis Short still appearing to have full faith in the man who he employed to replace Steve Bruce just under a year ago.
Whilst that is good news for the supporters to hear, the Black Cats are going through a rocky period.
O’Neill’s opportunism going into this campaign has quickly been replaced by concern, as Sunderland sit in a worrying 16th place in the EPL table, and were also knocked out of the Capital One Cup after an inept display against rivals Middleborough.
His football management pedigree is unquestionable, but the natives are getting increasingly restless on Wearside.
Sunderland desperately needs to string a winning sequence together—starting with QPR (H) and Norwich City (A) this week in EPL.
Sounds easy on paper doesn’t it? However, it will be anything but that.
I am sure the last thing O’Neill wanted for his demoralized side was to face Harry Redknapp—who is taking charge of his first game as QPR manager—let alone an away trip to Carrow Road against a buoyant, defensively sound Norwich City side. There are no easy games in EPL, meaning O’Neill needs to pull on all his manageable experience to avert a crisis at The Stadium of Light.
First up is a tricky encounter against QPR tonight.
The home team desperately needs to score first, as starting a goal behind will only further irritate the disgruntled locals.
Which QPR will turn up is anybody’s guess, so Sunderland have to start quickly, enabling the supporters to feed off the player’s energy to make it an intimidating atmosphere for the visitors.
However, only a brave gambling man would bet against Redknapp pulling another football rabbit out of the hat, getting his QPR tenure off to a flying start and, as a result, plunging the Black Cats into the relegation mire.
Sunderland’s season is on a knife-edge.
Defeat could send them into the bottom three, facing the prospect of a nightmare game at Norwich City to come on Sunday. Victory allows the club to look upwards going into this weekend’s fixture—bringing back the positive attitude needed replicate their recent away success at Cavern Cottage against Fulham.
This game has become a fascinating clash between two wily managerial veterans—one that O’Neill cannot afford to lose.
With the elite EPL sides not playing until Wednesday, I am genuinely excited about this contest.
This week could have massive long-term implications for Sunderland’s entire season.