Will Sunderland survive relegation battle?
How heartbroken Sunderland fans must be these days. Unless you're a Geordie, you can’t help but feel pity. The club is in disarray. It appears set to take the drop for a second time in as many seasons. The Black Cats could find themselves in the third tier for the first time since 1990. A club their size simply doesn't belong there. Can it be prevented?
The club has been on a decline since Paolo Di Canio was shown the door in 2013. Some would argue earlier. Since Di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, and Simon Grayson have all occupied the managerial seat at the Stadium of Light. Five quality managers in five years, yet the side has continually flirted with danger. So why has Chris Coleman now opted for this poisoned chalice? Is it self-inflicted punishment for failing to qualify for the World Cup with Wales?
That's as good a reason as any. Coleman was quite at peace with the Dragons. He had formed a strong bond with the squad after taking them to the Euro16 semi-finals.
He will have to build relationships all over again at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland has too many players just filling space. Previous coach Grayson signed ten new players upon succeeding David Moyes. None have made a significant impact on the club. Immediately following Grayson's appointment, an allegedly drunk Darron Gibson leveled heavy criticism at several of his teammates. Video of the tirade was leaked to the press. Gibson rightfully questioned the squad's commitment but he also had his faults. Not keeping such matters in-house, for instance.
Several of Grayson's new arrivals appear better suited for League One, where, unless Coleman can light a fire under them, is where they will find themselves come summer. Coleman added another five players in the winter transfer window. That group included Ashley Fletcher from Middlesbrough and goalkeeper Lee Camp. The duo are major coups who could help Coleman at both ends of the pitch.
The Welshman has worked hard to give his new charges a chance at survival. They have gathered 15 points since his arrival in November. That is more than double the 11 they had previously. Even though the side hasn't yet managed consecutive victories under his stewardship they have crept within one victory of bubble team Hull City, which has also picked up a new boss in Nigel Adkins.
Coleman has tried to freshen up the side's tactics, deploying a 3-5-2 formation. The change didn't have an immediate effect, although the weekend's 3-3 draw at Ashton Gate against sixth-place Bristol City showed more fight than the squad had displayed for some time. It's also a sign the side can get by without leading scorer Lewis Grabban, whose loan was cut short by Aston Villa in January.
Sunderland faces a tough challenge to avoid demotion. It will find be in a tight fix if it does not survive. The club's finances won't be supported by League One revenues, especially with Jack Rodwell on the books. Chris Coleman's task is of grave importance to the club's health.