The Local Lowdown: Sunderland


We asked opposition expert James Hunter, Sunderland AFC columnist for We Are Sunderland, to preview Saturday's St Mary's showdown from the visitors' point of view...

With 10 games to go, how would you rate Sunderland’s season so far?

Sunderland have shot themselves in the foot this season. After reaching the play-offs last term there was a real feeling that the club could build on that platform and at least finish in the top six once again, but they have been let down by poor recruitment – both last summer and in January – and by bad decision-making over the role of head coach.

Sacking Tony Mowbray in December was a huge mistake, replacing him with Michael Beale was just as bad, and now interim boss Mike Dodds is minding the shop until May. At best, it has mid-table mediocrity written all over it.

How was Tony Mowbray’s departure viewed at the time, and has that view changed with the benefit of hindsight?

Mowbray was sacked having taken eight points from the previous nine games but, with the club just three points outside the play-offs and the team playing entertaining attacking football, he retained the backing of the majority of fans and they were baffled by the decision.

Mowbray’s departure owed more to comments he made that appeared to question the club’s transfer ‘model’, which were viewed as heresy by those in the boardroom. Sunderland fans have seen the club go backwards at an alarming rate since Mowbray left and – notwithstanding his current health problems – it is fair to say that the vast majority would rather he was still in charge.

Michael Beale's reign in the Sunderland dugout proved to be short-lived

Why didn’t it work out for Michael Beale, who lasted only 12 games in charge?

Beale was the wrong man at the wrong club. He was not the club’s first choice to replace Mowbray and, when he took over, he was viewed as an underwhelming appointment right from the off.

Beale suffered from being the man who followed a popular figure in Mowbray, and he proved unable to deliver the results that would have given him a chance of winning fans over.

It’s now five defeats in a row for Sunderland, but has there been an upturn in performance or change in approach under interim boss Mike Dodds?

There has been a little more tactical flexibility shown under Dodds such as the switch to a back three against Leicester City in midweek, but ultimately he is dealing with the same squad with the same glaring weakness – a near total lack of firepower from the strikers who were recruited last summer.

Sunderland have lost all three of their games under Dodds’s current spell as interim boss so there has been no uptick in results, and the improvement in performances has been negligible.

Sunderland will be without 15-goal top scorer Jack Clarke at St Mary's

Who are the players to watch out for in the absence of the injured Jack Clarke?

Tough question! Sunderland were so reliant on Clarke that losing him to injury has been a hammer blow, particularly with Patrick Roberts also out.

As far as attackers are concerned, Nazariy Rusyn is the best of the rest, but it is telling that in Clarke’s absence Sunderland’s most dangerous players are probably midfielders such as Jobe Bellingham and Dan Neil.

How do you see the game going?

It won’t be a repeat of September’s 5-0 Sunderland win, that I can promise you! I just can’t see where the goals are going to come from for Sunderland and they haven’t kept a clean sheet since New Year’s Day, so it is hard to see past a Southampton victory. But hope springs eternal…

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