Sunderland: Is O'Neill doing better than Steve Bruce?
So we’re seven (or six if you’re Reading or Sunderland) games into the 2012/2013 Premier League season and despite the usual suspects leading the way (ie Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City) it’s too early to predict what will happen, especially with Everton starting off magnificently and currently sitting pretty in fourth spot.
For a neutral this means another unpredictable, topsy-turvy term, shock wins, managerial casualties and an array of spectacular goals and saves … and gaffes.
This season has started in similar fashion to the last campaign with Liverpool and Arsenal having both lost games and Messrs Wenger and Rogers feeling the heat, with Liverpool in particular only recently ending a barren run that has seen them lose twice in the Premiership and struggling in the Europa Cup.
Last season bookies had slashed odds on Arsene Wenger losing his job and this season – despite only taking over from the sacked Kenny Dalglish in June – Rogers has faced the ire of the media and fans and according to certain publications his days are numbered at Anfield.
Similarly QPR and Norwich – two of my picks to go down this season – are making up two of the three relegation spots and don’t look like moving any time soon. Mark Hughes’s men were in 11th last season, under the stewardship of Neil Warnock, but now sit rock bottom despite splashing out the most during the summer transfer window. One has to wonder how long the likes of Esteban Granero and Julio Cesar will stick around at this rate as the Londoners spiral out of control.
Norwich meanwhile, were one of the surprising packages of last season and, despite losing Paul Lambert to Aston Villa, have a good rookie coach in Chris Hughton and have managed to retain want away striker Grant Holt, while bolstering their back line with the acquisitions of Michael Turner and Sebastien Bassong. However, this hasn’t been enough to halt a run of three defeats while having failed to pick-up their first win of the season. They’ll need to bring the best out of Holt in order to stand any chance of survival.
With regards to Sunderland, the Black Cats are up three places from last season, sitting in 13th and having registered respectable draws away to Arsenal, at home to Liverpool while defeating a solid Wigan side 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. Martin O’ Neill’s men fell 3-0 to champions Man City and looked surprisingly out of depth with Stephane Sessegnon in particular not performing to his usual high standards. O’Neill will have to address this issue in time for the visit of the arch-enemy Newcastle on Sunday.
Sunderland may be better off in terms of points and league position but they have scored fewer goals than this time last year, conceded more and have still only managed one win in six. There's still a long way to go before O'Neill has this team the way he wants it.
This time last year Steve Bruce was the scourge of the Red and White Army for his failure to address an alarming winless streak as well as the deadline-day departure of then-record signing Asamoah Gyan to Dubai. His days were soon numbered as a disgraceful 2-1 loss at home to Wigan on November 26 forced chairman Ellis Short to axe the now-Hull City coach.
This time around, new record-buy Steven Fletcher scored with every shot he took before the City loss, while the club has made significant progress bringing in quality with the additions of England international Adam Johnson and veteran striker Louis Saha. The likes of Connor Wickham and Ji-Dong Won haven’t progressed as hoped, with Wickham in particular struggling to get into the first-team squad, let alone the first XI.
However, with the Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley recovering well from their pre-season injuries – and with Lee Cattermole back from suspension after the Newcastle game, Sunderland should have enough in their locker to challenge for a European spot.
Calling all Sunderland fans: Are you confident the Black Cats will be challenging for a European place this season? What's the biggest difference between this season and last year? Is O'Neill still the man to take you forward? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.