Monday 18 May ~
When Sunderland conceded the second goal in their 2-0 defeat at home to Everton a fortnight ago, Ricky Sbragia was caught on camera calmly writing something on his notepad. As much as I dislike seeing managers rant and rave on the touchline I wouldn't have minded had he instead risen from his seat and at least pointed and shouted for a bit. Sbragia had built up a good reputation as a coach before being promoted to manager when Roy Keane walked out in December. But like many coaches before, he has discovered that he doesn't have an aptitude for doing some of the things that are required of managers, such as firing up players and getting them to give their best. This is the best squad Sunderland have had in my lifetime but with two games left, we could still go down. Which means that even if the third relegation spot goes to a certain other north-east team, we have had a poor season.
Safety has been within our grasp for what now feels like months. But we're still feeling the gravitational pull of the Championship after taking only four points from the last six matches. I'm still hoping for the full three points against Portsmouth tonight and it might help that our opponents finally achieved mathematical safety over the weekend themselves. But even if Premier League status is maintained it has been a traumatic period with the great hopes of the start of the season replaced by sullen frustration.
Most Sunderland fans don't dislike Ricky Sbragia, but his negative tactics and fumbling interviews have caused alarm and embarrassment. Chairman Niall Quinn acted naively in appointing the caretaker, something that our gratingly populist chairman has surely realised. Quinn's fondness for the soundbite has even threatened to dilute his still high standing among supporters at a time when the team limped from defeat to defeat. But as he is also known to hold a high regard for fan opinion, it's assumed that he has already decided to put Sbragia out of his misery at the end of the season.
If Sunderland do manage to stay up most fans feel that with a few changes to the staff, the club could achieve what many long for – a dull mid-table season. With a smaller fanbase, Fulham are showing this year how good management can be rewarded. Wigan and Bolton are also viewed with envy. Sunderland fans keep hearing about the potential at the club but all we really want is a quiet year or two. I won't be able to avoid the match tonight but I wish I could shut my eyes and this season would all be over. Ed Upright