Saturday 21 July 2018

Coleman a victim of Short shrift

Former Wales manager must regret taking the poisoned chalice that is the Sunderland job

Preston’s Ireland striker Sean Maguire tussles with Sunderland’s Lamine Kone in North End’s 2-0 victory at the Stadium of Light yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Preston’s Ireland striker Sean Maguire tussles with Sunderland’s Lamine Kone in North End’s 2-0 victory at the Stadium of Light yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Colin Young

When Aiden McGeady left Everton to join Sunderland last summer, it was with the intention of getting out of the Championship at the first attempt after their abysmal relegation from the Premier League ended their ten-year stay.

No one could have predicted that Sunderland would indeed be leaving the division but in entirely the wrong direction, just as McGeady could never have envisaged that his new club would be bottom of the Championship with eight games to go, while previous temporary employers Preston North End, and the little Irish army he left behind, are thriving again and remain on the verge of the play-offs.

McGeady was sent on loan to Deepdale last season by Ronald Koeman, having failed to win over the successor to Roberto Martinez, who signed McGeady from Spartak Moscow in 2014.

He thrived under Simon Grayson, who gave the Ireland international the freedom to wreak havoc on Championship defences. When Grayson left Preston after taking the club to eighth from where he started in League One, believing Sunderland would bridge the gap to the top six, it made sense that McGeady would be his first target. And even Sunderland could afford the £250,000 fee.

Although Sunderland struggled from day one, McGeady started reasonably well, scoring four goals in the first two months and providing the odd assist. But he was playing with confidence and better players at Preston and as Sunderland slipped down the table, McGeady's effectiveness waned.

So when Chris Coleman took over at the Stadium of Light in November, the former Wales boss became just the latest manager to be unconvinced by McGeady, who stayed on the bench again yesterday for the visit of Alex Neil's side.

Even when Sunderland fell two goals and a man behind, Coleman turned not to the skilful Irishman but to flighty young winger Kazenga LuaLua, who is on loan from Brighton.

Coleman became owner Ellis Short's tenth manager in as many years when Grayson admitted defeat after a home draw with Bolton - his eighth game on home turf without a win. Last seen losing to Ireland as Wales manager in October, Coleman must now be regretting his haste in accepting the poisoned chalice on Wearside. And after his 12th defeat in 21 games yesterday, he too must be close to the exit.

Since taking over at Sunderland, jobs at West Brom, Stoke, Southampton have come and gone, not to mention at healthier Championship clubs like Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday. And look at the messes they are all just about managing to recover from.

Coleman cannot have understood the full implications of Short's ownership of a football club he has funded since buying out the Irish Drumaville consortium and replacing Niall Quinn as chairman ten years ago.

But the American hedge fund billionaire did not understand soccer. Clearly still doesn't. He may have funded the club's Premier League survival but wanted more for his millions. So he hired more managers.

Each one had a different plan but the owner didn't. They all signed more players and then he sacked them until Short finally thought he had found his man when Sam Allardyce performed the latest rescue act. The fans loved Big Sam. He loved them back. But he loved England more and left to briefly manage his country in summer 2016.

Exasperated by the FA's dithering over Allardyce's doomed appointment, Short took his ball and went home. Literally. When his son won a tennis scholarship in Florida, Short sold his London mansion for £50 million and joined him. He has not spoken to Coleman since appointing him.

He has also put the club up for sale, for nothing, provided around £135m of debt and bank repayments are met. There have been no takers. Chief executive Martin Bain has been handed the unenviable task of running a rudderless giant vessel which is now heading to the third division for the first time in 31 years.

Coleman is the victim of Short's disassociation with a business he lost interest in years ago, not helped by Sunderland's appalling reaction to the child sex abuse allegations against Adam Johnson, which led to the disgraced former England winger's six-year jail term. Chief executive Margaret Byrne took the rap but it happened on Short's watch.

Sunderland's brittle squad has been decimated by injuries, particularly among senior players like Marc Wilson and Darron Gibson, who dragged the club into more adverse publicity yesterday when he was arrested for an alleged drink-driving offence after smashing into four parked cars near the stadium just hours before kick-off.

For the first time yesterday, after going behind to goals from Seán Maguire and Callum Robinson and losing Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter to a sorry second yellow card, Sunderland fans turned against their manager, as well as their players. He may have been dealt one of the worst hands in football history, but Coleman has not come close to lifting the club. He surely cannot be prepared to suffer much longer.

Coleman inherited an appalling squad but his loan signings have not been good enough. Although Bain and his fourth manager in four years went begging in the transfer window, the end result has not improved the team. They just added more very average bodies.

He was heavily linked with a temporary deal for Liverpool's talented Wales midfielder Ryan Woodburn but how could Coleman protect the youngster from the angry pit of despair and disappointment the Stadium of Light has become? He signed Ovie Ejaria on loan from Anfield instead and at times he has looked like a boy lost among other boys.

He is not alone. Coleman has been forced to promote and continue playing a number of youngsters from the Sunderland academy who, under normal circumstances, would be struggling to make the bench.

But at least George Honeyman, Joel Asoro, Josh Maja and Ethan Robson are available. Former England international Jack Rodwell, on a reported £80,000-a-week, is fully fit but has not been considered for selection because he no longer wants to play for the club.

The contrast with Preston could not be sharper. Their visit to the Stadium of Light yesterday was only the third since Sunderland moved to the ground 20 years ago, showing the traditional gap between the two clubs. But it is Preston who are on the ascendancy and, under Neil, managed to maintain the challenge for promotion which should be beyond the club with the third lowest budget in the Championship. Even the £8m sale of top scorer Jordan Hugill to West Ham has failed to halt their progress towards the top six.

They have lost just eight of their 37 games under the Scot who, like Grayson, has continued to utilise the Irish players in his squad. Alan Browne is a established midfield regular, Greg Cunningham has played when fit, Daryl Horgan's absence from the bench yesterday was a rare event and Maguire has now scored nine goals this season. The result yesterday still leaves Neil's men a win outside the top six but they have not lost away from home since early November and they are an efficient, attractive team who play without fear.

After his sacking, Grayson has had to start again at Bradford City in League One. And he will see Sunderland there next season. Whether he will see Chris Coleman is another matter.

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