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Three reasons for Sunderland supporters to be optimistic about the New Year

Martyn Cooke

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Sunderland
Photo: Reuters

To say that the last couple of years has been turbulent period for Sunderland supporters would be a significant understatement.

Sam Allardyce departed the club in the summer of 2015 to begin an ill-fated spell in charge of the England national team and the Black Cats replaced him with David Moyes, who proceeded to oversee a half-hearted campaign that ultimately concluded with relegation to The Championship.

The club quickly discovered that life in the second tier of English football was no easier and Simon Grayson was dismissed just three months after taking charge, leaving the team stranded in the relegation zone and facing the realistic possibility of slipping into League One.

However, there have been some tentative signs of recovery around the Stadium of Light in recent weeks and there is a cautious optimism among the supporters who are hoping that the appointment of Chris Coleman is the catalyst for a change in the club’s fortunes.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three reasons for Sunderland supporters to be optimistic about the New Year…

Sunderland

The arrival of Chris Coleman

Since the dismissal of Roy Keane in December 2008 there has been a continuous conveyor belt of managers that have attempted, with differing levels of success, to facilitate progress at Sunderland.

Chris Coleman became the Black Cat’s tenth manager in less than eight years when he was appointed as Simon Grayson’s successor in mid-November, but the Welshman’s arrival has created a sense of optimism around the Stadium of Light and the hope that the club can begin to build for the future.

The fact that Sunderland were able to tempt Coleman to take up the role is an impressive feat considering the 47-year-old’s reputation has never been more prominent after a successful spell in charge of the Welsh national team.

A manager of his calibre is exactly what the Black Cats require and his experience, no-nonsense style and ability to make teams hard will provide supporters with hope that the team can climb away from the relegation zone. Whilst in charge of the Welsh national team Coleman demonstrated that he could mould a group of, in reality, average players into an efficient unit capable of reaching the semi-finals of Eur0 2016.

Since his appointment there have already been signs of progress with Sunderland looking better organised, more competitive and look capable of picking up positive results. Coleman still has an awful lot of work to do but the general feeling on Wearside is that he is the right man for the job.

Lewis Grabban

Goals have been in short supply at the Stadium of Light this season but Lewis Grabban’s efforts have made him one of the few bright sparks in what has ultimately been a dismal start to life in the second tier of English football.

The 29-year-old is something of a journeyman having played for ten clubs so far in his career but his arrival on loan from Bournemouth has probably been the sole reason that Sunderland are not cut adrift at the foot of the Championship.

The striker has scored 11 goals in 17 league appearances so far this season, which is a quite astonishing feat when you consider the absence of quality in the team, the lack of service he receives and the club’s consistently poor performances. To score on such a regular basis for a struggling team is some achievement.

Grabban is certainly not the perfect striker but goals are the most valuable commodity in football, especially if you are in a team that is stranded in the relegation zone. The fear for Sunderland supporters now is that Bournemouth might considering recalling the forward in January, yet if the Black Cats can keep hold of him he will play a crucial role in Chris Coleman’s bid for survival.

The January transfer window

The main positive for Sunderland supporters is that the January transfer window will provide Chris Coleman with the perfect opportunity to start constructing a team that is capable of securing safety.

The current squad lacks strength in depth, is weighed down by the inflated wages of failed so-called Premier League stars and is vastly unbalanced, but when the window reopens in the New Year the rebuilding process can begin.

It is unclear how much money Coleman will be given to spend in January and it is vital that he brings in four or five new players that will galvanise the team – that will mean signing an experienced goalkeeper, adding quality to the spine of the team and starting to trim the deadwood around the squad.

However, if the Welshman makes the right moves in the transfer market then he can begin to build a team competitive team that can climb away from the relegation zone whilst starting the process of laying the foundations for the future.

What Sunderland need now is to sign young, progressive talent rather than wasting money on seasoned ‘old pros’.

The team needs to be built around players that are hungry, determined and focused on carving a career for themselves in the upper-tiers of English football and that have something to prove, in contrast to the likes of Darren Gibson, Jack Rodwell and John O’Shea who have neither the financial pressures or motivations to drive the club forward.

The January transfer window is the perfect opportunity for Coleman to begin rebuilding the club.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Championship

Four goals in last three games: Could Luke Molyneux be Sunderland’s unlikely hero?

The 20-year-old has been in fine form for the Sunderland under-23s.

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Sunderland are still fighting to stay in the Championship. An improvement in performances has seen them lose just once in their last five games. Unfortunately, they have drawn their last three games, all three fixtures in which they could have taken all three points.

Therefore, Sunderland are still bottom of the league table and six points off of safety with just three games left to play.

So should the Black Cats consider throwing in one of their in-form under-23 players?

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The player in question is attacking midfielder Luke Molyneux. The 20-year-old, who can also play on the wing, has been in sublime form recently. That form continued this weekend.

The young attacker scored twice in the 4-1 win against Leicester City this afternoon. That followed another brace against Everton in a 2-1 win – taking his tally to four goals in his last three appearances.

His excellent form has helped pull Sunderland out of the relegation zone in the Premier League 2 Division One. Could he do it for the first-team?

Sunderland have certainly improved their performances, but bringing in someone who is in such great form could be a masterstroke from Chris Coleman.

Molyneux could be an impact sub for the Black Cats in the final three games of the season and could bring his current goalscoring knack into the first-team.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Regardless of whether Sunderland decide to give him a shot in the first-team or not, his form is certainly looking good enough to warrant a new contract.

He is one of many at Sunderland whose contracts expire in the summer, but given his fine recent form surely he will be retained when the lists are announced next month?

If that is the case, perhaps this season will come along too soon for Molyneux. But if Sunderland do drop into League One, the attacker might have a better chance of playing regular first-team football at the Stadium of Light.

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Championship

Is Tom Beadling doing enough to earn a contract U-turn at Sunderland?

The Australian youngster has been in good form since joining Dunfermline Athletic.

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There has not been much to smile about at Sunderland this season. It has been another drab campaign at the Stadium of Light, with first Simon Grayson and now Chris Coleman failing to turn around the fortunes of an ailing side.

Sunderland are now looking doomed to relegation and League One beckons. With that in mind, it is time to start looking toward next season and what could be some positives for Sunderland.

Whilst relegation will be a big blow, they can also be hopeful that some of their young players will step up and take advantage of a chance at a lower level.

(during the Barclays U21 Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur U21 and Sunderland U21 at White Hart Lane on April 11, 2016 in London, England.

One player who will be hoping to do just that is Tom Beadling. The Australian youth international headed to Dunfermline Athletic of the Scottish Championship in January on loan until the end of the season.

Since his move to Scotland, he has shown some great form for The Pars. Working under former Sunderland midfielder Allan Johnston he has shown a new sign of his game north of the border.

The 22-year-old, who is best known as a central defender, has adapted to playing in what is often an attacking midfield role with the Scottish side.

When he made the move to Dunfermline, the Chronicle reported this was the end of his Sunderland career, with his contract expiring in the summer.

(13 May 1998: Allan Johnston of Sunderland gets away from Paul Devlin of Sheffield United during the Nationwide League Divison One play-off at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, England. Sunderland won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport

But given he has performed well and added an extra string to his bow, Sunderland must surely consider keeping him on for at least one more year.

Cost-cutting is expected at the Stadium of Light this summer, but the 22-year-old’s salary is unlikely to be a major burden on affairs on Wearside.

Sunderland could have a very useful player on their hands for League One if the were to keep Beadling on past the summer. But if not, he will undoubtedly have suitors after his good form in Scotland.

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Championship

If Sunderland drop into the third-tier it will only be for the second time

Sunderland have given themselves hope of survival with a 4-1 win against Derby County.

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Good Friday saw something of a miracle from Sunderland, as their unlikely fight to survive in the Championship finally kicked into gear. The Black Cats went into the game on a run of three straight defeats but stunned Derby County away from home with a 4-1 win.

Goals from George Honeyman, Ashley Fletcher, Aiden McGeady and John O’Shea gave Sunderland all three points, despite Matej Vydra’s attempt to spoil the party halfway through.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND – JANUARY 10: A Sunderland flag flaps in the wind before the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool at Stadium of Light on January 10, 2015 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The result gives Sunderland, who have been in freefall, a hope of Championship survival. With seven games left they are five points behind Birmingham City and safety.

Dropping into the third-tier of English football would be a massive blow for Sunderland and would signify the mismanagement of the club in recent times under the stewardship of Ellis Short.

There is one little-known fact that highlights the club’s fall from grace more than any other. Should Sunderland fall out of the Championship and into League One it would represent just the second time the club have played outside the top two tiers of the English game.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 10: Joel Asoro of Sunderland reacts during the Sky Bet Championship match between Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland at Loftus Road on March 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

Sunderland have a rich history. They joined the Football League in the third year of its inception after Stoke were not re-elected.

It was then 68 years before Sunderland suffered relegation. The club was relegated to the third tier for the one and only time in 1987, bouncing straight back up at the first attempt.

Not many teams in English football have such a proud and successful record which makes the demise of Sunderland all the more disappointing to watch.

The 4-1 win at Derby however undoubtedly gives Sunderland hope that they will not repeat 1987 this year around. A club of this stature should not be in such dire straits. Hopefully, Chris Coleman can pull off the great escape.

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