Advocaat an unnecessary risk for Black Cats?


Dick Advocaat

As Aston Villa scored their eighth away goal of the season, and their fourth of just the first half against a sorry Sunderland side, it seemed, quite conclusively, that Villa’s decision to replace Paul Lambert with Tim Sherwood had been justified.

Villa owner Randy Lerner had been presented with a stick-or-twist scenario. He had twisted, and it appeared to have paid off. Notoriously goal-shy Villa had started firing.

At half time, I asked a steward on the door how many home fans had passed him to return home early.

‘It’s in the thousands,’ he replied, shaking his head, gravely.

For the first time this season, there was a palpable murmur of relegation chatter between the supporters who were still there, milling between the toilets and food stalls in the guts of the stadium.

When Sunderland came out after half time, they were met with a half-empty arena.

And despite there being no more goals for either side, there was very little to shout about for the few who remained.

Gus Poyet was asked afterwards if he would continue to fight as Sunderland manager. He said there was no question to be had regarding his commitment.

Unfortunately, by Monday morning, it appeared that his level of commitment had been disregarded by owner Ellis Short.

Just as with Villa and Lerner, Sunderland’s owner had arrived at a stick or twist scenario. Worried by his team’s proximity to the relegation zone, he was perhaps provoked into action after Burnley had beaten Manchester City in Saturday’s late kick off, to move within a point of the Black Cats.

He, too, twisted, and Poyet was shown the door.

In, almost immediately, came Dick Advocaat, a 67-year-old Dutchman who had never before managed in the Premier League.

Zeljko Petrovic was named as his assistant, a man who’s only prior Premier League experience was as deputy to Avram Grant when he was relegated with West Ham in 2011.

Was this a partnership destined to bring about Premier League safety?

In all probability, Sunderland will not be relegated. There are at least three worse teams than the Black Cats. But, it seems an unnecessary risk for the Sunderland hierarchy to take.

Results could have been better for Gus Poyet, but he was not underachieving as much as has been suggested. His squad was, and is still, lacking woefully in both depth and quality.

He’d taken much the same group to Wembley last season. Even after the Villa defeat, he still had a buffer.

It became clear, however, that Poyet was disillusioned with life at the Stadium of Light, and was probably not too upset to be departing.

After the defeat to QPR, when Sunderland became the first side this season to lose to the R’s at home, Poyet spoke of an institutionalized problem at the club, which he ‘or 5 managers after’ might not be able to change.

But he would have steered Sunderland to safety this season, I think, quite comfortably.

Advocaat and Petrovic may well do the same. The Sunderland squad is poor, but it is not poor enough, this season, to go down.

It seems, therefore, a shortsighted move on the part of Ellis Short, to swap proven for unproven. And it would have been rather costly as well, to end Poyet’s contract early and to sign Advocaat, even on a short-term basis.

Aston Villa will climb clear of the relegation zone now, under their new manager, just as Crystal Palace and West Brom have both done under theirs.

And Sunderland may well do the same. Defeat to West Ham at the weekend may be but a blip in an Advocaat revolution.

But if they don’t start winning again, if the West Ham defeat is more than a blip, and if they are in the bottom three come May, then many a Sunderland fan may not be able to help but look back on Poyet’s tenure and wonder what if…

Was Ellis Short right to twist? Only time will tell.

Photograph: commons.wikimedia

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