THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Manager has written open letter to fans and given them great memories

icon sunderland220 February ~ As the fan of a struggling club, there's a few managers you don't really want to see in the opposing dugout for a key game. Unfortunately for Sunderland supporters, Tony Pulis – all tactical pragmatism, minor gamesmanship and a branded baseball cap wedged firmly on top – is definitely one of them. And tomorrow's visit of Pulis's West Brom is a very important match for the home team, especially their head coach Gus Poyet.

On Thursday, Poyet apparently felt the need to try to improve a disintegrating relationship with Sunderland fans by resorting to one of the scourges of modern life, the open letter. SAFC's PR department framed that document as straight from the Uruguayan himself – so much so that no one proofread it for English language errors. In it, among other things, Poyet accepted full responsibility for the club's form and pleaded for unity.

This all began in January when, after a drab FA Cup draw with Fulham, Poyet demanded patience from the club's fans, while accusing them of "living in the past" and craving the "kick and rush" football of the Peter Reid era. Then things suddenly looked up. Sunderland beat Burnley for a second home win of the season, dispatched Fulham at Craven Cottage and earned a decent draw away at Swansea. Our next fixtures were a home tie against QPR – with the worst away record in Europe – and a game against League One Bradford for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

We lost both games 2-0. More worryingly, we were easily out-fought, out-thought and out-played. At Valley Parade, Sunderland fans expressed annoyance with Poyet in large numbers, singing: "It's always our fault." After the game, he bizarrely blamed the media for this unpopularity. Then came Thursday's missive, where, like a paranoid partner, Poyet pleaded to fans: "Let’s make sure that we don’t let anyone to break our relationship." Yet this will be quickly overshadowed by tomorrow’s result.

So this does feel like a possible tipping point for Poyet. Another defeat could leave Sunderland in the relegation zone, with gloom and frustration descending even further. It won't be an easy one either. Understandably, the aforementioned Pulis will set up his side to frustrate his opponents and wind up a tense crowd. Though if Sunderland play like they did recently, West Brom won't even need to attack on the break – they'll be given the freedom of the pitch. After two good wins and scoring six goals against West Ham and Swansea, West Brom will be confident, especially up front.

Yet Poyet has brought Sunderland fans some very good memories: a League Cup final, three wins over Newcastle and an unlikely escape from relegation last season. On paper, our team should have enough to avoid relegation and Lee Cattermole's return from injury and a few goals from January signing Jermain Defoe might well see to that. If so, there's another battle for mid-table to look forward to next year. A fifth win in a row against Newcastle in April would help rekindle the fans' relationship with Poyet too.

If relegation finally does happen, it's a sad indictment of the club's recent management and most of the players. We're certainly not the only ones, but we've been stinking out the Premier League for years. Poyet can't take all the responsibility for that. Ed Upright

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