Those of us who watched Sunderland ‘Till I die, Netflix’s fly-on-the-wall documentary of the Mackems’ first season outside of the top flight for a decade, will know that the North East club don’t do disappointment in half measures.
In a campaign that was expected to see promotion being chased and ideally an immediate return to the Premier League secured, it was instead an ever-spiralling study in disaster as a side completely shot of belief floundered and flailed their way to League One.
Amidst turmoil in the boardroom Sunderland burned their way through two managers and ended up rock bottom, losing half of their fixtures. It was a difficult watch. It was like witnessing a car crash in slow motion.
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What is remarkable is that ever since their ignominious drop to the third tier the Black Cats’ misfortunes have continued, only now they’re made somehow worse by the accompaniment of hope throughout.
In the summer of 2018 a takeover of the club by former Eastleigh owner Stewart Donald saw them free of debt and the appointment of Jack Ross as their new manager looked a shrewd one with the 41-year-old boasting a fine track record in Scotland. Granted nobody expected the rough and ready League One to be a cake-walk but, considering the quality within the squad, a successful year beckoned.
And in many ways it was, with a return to winning ways a very welcome development as Sunderland competed among the top six. In March Wembley was reached in the Checkatrade Trophy final but heartache followed with a loss on penalties to Portsmouth. It was a day that summed up Sunderland’s recent cursed spell all-too-aptly as a record crowd of passionate fans travelled south and enjoyed the ups and downs of circumstance only to be ultimately undone by cruel bathos.
But no matter, because varying form in the league resulted in a play-off spot attained and revenge being enacted on Pompey with a semi-final two-legged triumph. So onto Wembley it was again on a sunny day and with the offering of redemption and surely this was to be Sunderland’s time after all they had been through? Even fate after all has a heart. Against Charlton Ross’ men were much the better side but they lost 2-1, the winning goal arriving with just five seconds to go.
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Last week Ross was sacked after a mixed opening spell to the new season and his departure was announced in the same news cycle that brought confirmation that Sunderland’s latest takeover is off after a wealthy American consortium backed by Dell Technologies pulled out over discrepancies concerning the valuation of the club.
Michael Dell, one of the principle players behind the mooted takeover has an estimated net fortune of £28.6 billion.
Which leaves Donald still at the helm and Sunderland presently managerless. For the fans, meanwhile, it is once again a case of hopes cruelly dashed.
“The reality of this club is we have the best travel arrangements, the best medical investment, we have the best facilities, we have got the best budget. I believe we have got the best squad.” This was Donald last week explaining how highly pressurised the position is that now needs filling.
Whoever takes charge will need a will of steel to inherit an institution that seems to have lately become so unpopular with the fates.
There are demons looming at the club after a torrid couple of seasons and the next manager will have to conquer those to put the Black Cats back on an upward trajectory.