Gus Poyet’s troubled reign as Sunderland manager came to an end following the 4-0 home defeat against Aston Villa, a limp exit for the feisty Uruguayan that leaves the Black Cats looking for their fourth boss in two years amid a tense battle to avoid Premier League relegation.
Poyet in October 2013 replaced Paulo Di Canio at the Stadium of Light, the former West Ham striker in turn having succeeded Martin O’Neill in March that same year. Di Canio initially kept Sunderland up and Poyet eventually did likewise, but neither was able to build on that success and pull the club away from the bottom of the table. The onus will now fall on someone else – the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Paul Lambert and Dick Advocaat have been mentioned.
Whoever the new man is, they face a Herculean task. Sunderland aren’t dead and buried – even if they looked it after 45 minutes against Villa – but the situation is most certainly desperate. Poyet proved unable to get the best out of the assembled squad, his team lacking goals and creativity at one end and rigour and strength at the other. Jermain Defoe was drafted in to cure the former problem but has only two goals and 40 EuroFantasyLeague points to his name, while at the other, it appears only a complete overhaul will do.
There’s no time for that, though, not in the nine league games that remain of the season. On paper, the Sunderland defence, while not the strongest in the top flight, doesn’t appear to be the weakest either. At the very least, there are few if any more experienced, with the presence of Wes Brown and John O’Shea. But only four teams have conceded more goals than Sunderland – and three of them are in the relegation places. The other, Newcastle, travel to Wearside in early April.
Sunderland’s situation has been troubling for some time. Poyet recorded only one league win in his last 10 games, against Burnley in late January, and only four all season. So why has owner Ellis Short acted now? Perhaps because of the Clarets’ excellent and wholly unexpected win over Manchester City – combined of course with the pathetic nature of Sunderland’s defeat against Villa. Burnley’s closed the gap to the bottom three to just a point and suddenly Sunderland, having been on the brink of the relegation battle all season, were sliding into serious danger.
Maybe Poyet could have survived the Villa defeat – after all, he came through the humiliating 8-0 trouncing at Southampton with his job in tact – but Burnley’s win gives them momentum, at a time when Sunderland are floundering. Short has delivered a sharp shock to the Sunderland system, as he did with the appointment of Di Canio and, indeed, Poyet, and each time it worked out. It may do again this time but if not, perhaps attention will turn to Short’s role in this mess. Poyet’s successor might not just have to save the team’s top-flight status but also, his boss’ reputation.
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