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Championship

A new direction is needed at crisis club Sunderland

Jake Jackman

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Sunderland

Sunderland have had a very poor start to the season and find themselves in 22nd position in the Championship after 15 matches. Last night, they had a must-win match against one of the few teams below them in the table, Bolton Wanderers, but they failed to take the three points and extended their winless run at home that stretches back to December 2016. In the immediate aftermath of the match, the club decided to part company with Simon Grayson, who was only appointed as manager during the summer.

It was always going to be a difficult job to take over at the Stadium of Light after their relegation from the Premier League last season and many turned the post down during the summer, including Derek McInnes. After a lengthy managerial search, they eventually decided to appoint Grayson and it was widely viewed as a good appointment at the time, especially by those who follow the Championship. The 47-year-old arrived with a wealth of Football League management experience and left a safe job at Preston North End, where he was doing an excellent job. At the time of his appointment, Grayson spoke of his excitement at the opportunity.

“I am delighted to come to Sunderland, a club with such wonderful history and tradition, and I’m excited by the opportunity to manage this club and I want to bring the good times back.

“Sunderland are so fortunate to have such tremendous support and I want to give these fans a team they can be proud of. I want a group of players full of desire, team spirt and a never-say-die attitude – that’s the very least that we should expect from a Sunderland player.”

There were many that thought Grayson was making a mistake taking the Sunderland job as he was making progress with Preston. However, the manager viewed this as a step-up and he is right in his comments that the Black Cats are a huge club. The potential is massive and it was an opportunity that he couldn’t turn down. However, he underestimated the problems at the club. This is a team that have been perennial losers at the bottom of the Premier League for years and time was needed to establish a winning mentality.

Sunderland

The challenge was a different one to what Grayson is used to as a manager. He has often taken over clubs in League One and brought them into the Championship, implementing a belief. The former Leeds United and Preston manager has never been in charge of a relegated Premier League club.

At the Stadium of Light, there were a lot of disinterested players on high wages and a negative atmosphere surrounded the club. It takes a big character to enact change and despite only being given 18 matches, the 47-year-old had little to no impact. He claimed he took the job without hesitation and it now looks like a decision that was made without the required forward-planning.

Where did it go wrong?

There were early signs that this was going to be another fight against relegation and that nothing had changed at the club. In their final pre-season match, Sunderland were mauled at home against Celtic, who didn’t even field their strongest eleven. On that day, the Black Cats had a starting eleven filled with Premier League experience including Lee Cattermole, Lamine Kone and Billy Jones, but the performance was one that supporters were all too familiar with.

The start to the competitive season wasn’t terrible and supporters started to believe in the team once again. In August, they beat Bury and Carlisle United in the Carabao Cup. Meanwhile, an away victory against promotion-hopefuls Norwich City combined with battling draws against Championship-hardened Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday suggested Sunderland could compete in the division.

However, things quickly went downhill and as we approach August, Sunderland have yet to win a competitive fixture since the 22nd August. During their opening 15 league matches, they have conceded 30 goals, which gives them the second-worst defence in the division. In terms of scoring goals, they are faring well, as they have found the back of the net on 20 occasions, but they are leaky at the other end.

A hugely worrying statistic is that they have kept only one clean sheet this season and that came against League One strugglers Bury in only their second match of the campaign. In their last eight fixtures, they have conceded 21 goals including eight in their last three. Simon Grayson has been known for organising teams well during his managerial career, but he has failed to build that at the Stadium of Light.

There is an argument to say that this is a harsh sacking, as it was a difficult job to start with and Grayson had started to make progress on the pitch. Sunderland have drawn four of their last five league matches and were picking up points, albeit slowly. That said, there are good players in the squad and the club should be aiming for more than Championship survival. The attendances at the Stadium of Light continue to fall with it being registered at 27,317 at the weekend against Bristol City. They had to make a change and the manager is the easiest individual to replace.

What next for the club?

This is going to be one of the most important appointments of the club’s history as they can’t afford another relegation. Aitor Karanka is the current favourite with the bookies and that would be a great choice for the club, but they would need to convince the Spaniard to take the job. It is one of the most difficult in English football at the moment and it isn’t one for the faint-hearted. He knows the North East well due to his time at Middlesbrough, but it would be a coup if they pull it off.

The next two names being linked at Peter Reid and Kevin Phillips. They both have connections with the club, but the former has been out of management for a long time, while the latter has never held a senior management position. They both carry risks, but the attraction of them comes from their links with the Stadium of Light.

If they appoint either of the two men, it could be the injection of positivity that the supporters need. Sunderland need a manager to come in and create a good mood around the ground on match-days. It would be a risk, but it could be one that pays off.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Championship

Frank Lampard would represent a gamble for Derby, but one worth taking

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Frank Lampard
Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea legend Frank Lampard has emerged as the favourite to become the new manager of Derby County.

The Rams are currently searching for their seventh manager in three years as their former gaffer Gary Rowett opted for a move to Stoke City earlier this week.

Despite a respectable season – which saw them bow out to Fulham in the play-off semi-finals – Derby fans are again scrolling the social media feeds for their next commander-in-chief.

The bookies believe that to be Frank Lampard.

Lampard’s Sky Bet odds have fallen from 16/1 to 1/4 in just days, with the former favourite – Brentford’s Dean Smith – falling to 7/2.

ESPN, meanwhile, have added more fuel to the Derby rumour train citing that sources close to Lampard suggested that a move to Pride Park is one that would interest him.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

The BT Sports Pundit has spoken publicly of his eagerness to get into management and Sky Sports reported that he had two interviews with Ipswich Town earlier this month to fill the Mick McCarthy void. However, reports have since fallen quiet on the Tractor Boys front.

Lampard could also be driven further by – former England teammate – Steven Gerrard’s move to Rangers. Gerrard has already been linked to and added a variety of names to the Rangers squad including former Scotland number one Alan McGregor and former Burnley midfielder Scott Arfield.

Despite all the hype, the Derby Telegraph understands that an appointment at Pride Park before the end of the week is unlikely. However, as the Rowett move to the Bet 365 Arena suggests, the booking odds are rarely wrong. There appears to be some substance in the Lampard link which makes it more than just a rumour.

Whoever takes over at Pride Park will have to deal with an ageing squad, a huge loanee return list, tight financial fair play restrictions and as a result; a much smaller budget than the one of recent seasons.

Despite his lack of Championship or managerial experience, it is frightening to consider what Lampard’s contact list may look like.

If the Chelsea legend does become a Ram, an influx of Chelsea academy products on loan could be expected. The 39-year-old’s lack of managerial experience could be a massive gamble for Derby, but a gamble may be what they need

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Nottingham Forest

Evangelos Marinakis must dig deep and sanction £6.5m Jack Marriott deal

Nottingham Forest are one of several teams keen on the Peterborough United star.

Mathew Coull

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Peterborough United have reportedly made their asking price for striker Jack Marriott known. The Sun report that the League One club are looking for a fee in the region of £6.5 million for the player this summer.

The report also highlights the long list of clubs linked with his signature. The likes of Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa are all mentioned as having an interest in the striker.

The other team mentioned are Championship side Nottingham Forest. Aitor Karanka will be looking to bring in some new faces this summer to help Forest find their way back up the Championship pecking order.

The club’s owner Evangelos Marinakis must find a way to fund this deal in any which way he can.

Marriott had a brilliant season last term, scoring 33 goals as the Posh missed out on the play-offs. Such goalscoring antics are exactly what Forest need next term.

Under Karanka the Reds found themselves particularly goal-shy. In their final 10 games of the season, they managed to not find the back of the net in six of those matches, including five goalless games in a row.

(during the The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Aston Villa and Peterborough United at Villa Park on January 6, 2018 in Birmingham, England.

The fact is, their current striking options are not good enough. Last summer’s big recruits were Jason Cummings and Darryl Murphy, both failed to live up to their reputations at the City Ground. Apostolos Vellios could leave this summer and youngster Ben Brereton is still learning.

Forest need an all-action goalscorer if they are to find their way out of the Championship next season.

Marriott is exactly that. Of course, he would need to quickly adapt to playing in a league above his but anyone who has seen Marriott play this season will back him to do so, such is his obvious talent.

Forest must make sure they win the race for the young man. His arrival could be a catalyst for a more free-scoring Forest next season. If that did become the case, then £6.5 million will be a bargain.

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Blackburn Rovers

With Blackburn not keen on permanent deal what next for Marcus Antonsson?

Leeds United loaned the Swede out to Blackburn Rovers this season.

Mathew Coull

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When Leeds United signed Marcus Antonsson in the summer of 2016 there was excitement over his arrival. The Swedish striker had been scoring goals for fun back in his homeland. Upon his arrival, he was the Allsvenskan top-scorer with former club Kalmar.

Leeds were obviously hoping he could repeat such form in West Yorkshire. They paid a fee reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post to be in the region of £2 million for his services.

But he struggled at Leeds. Just one goal in 16 Championship appearances and niggling injury trouble saw him fall down the pecking order at Elland Road.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Then, last summer, he found himself loaned out to Blackburn Rovers of League One.

It has been a season of two halves for the Swede. He enjoyed a good start to the campaign. He even found a new niche as a left-sided striker in a front three. In November he was named the League One Player of the Month and Blackburn would have been pleased with his progress.

However, he picked up a knee injury in December and then found himself under pressure from Newcastle United loanee Adam Armstrong. In the end, he finished the season with eight goals from 34 appearances, with his last strike coming in a 4-2 win against Blackpool back in November.

(Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)

According to the Lancashire Telegraph, the Swede’s loan deal at Ewood Park contained a seven-figure buy-out should the club decide they want him permanently. But the report seems to suggest Blackburn will be moving on to different targets.

So what next for the Leeds striker?

It appears a permanent switch to Blackburn is not on the cards. Does he have a long-term future at Leeds? It does not appear so, but perhaps Paul Heckingbottom will see things differently.

The new boss has yet to work with the Swedish striker and it could be he likes what he sees from the 27-year-old in the summer.

If not, then Leeds will struggle to find a permanent buyer for his services, given his minimal impact in the English game.

For Antonsson it appears he must either impress Heckingbottom or find himself a new loan destination for next season.

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