3 Pros and 3 Cons: What Sunderland can expect from new manager Phil Parkinson

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 17 October 2019, 14:42

After Jack Ross was dismissed as Sunderland manager at the beginning of their two-week international break, the club have appointed Phil Parkinson.

Is this a good appointment for the Black Cats?

We offer three pros and three cons to the appointment...


Strong League One record

Parkinson consistently meets expectations as a manager at this level.

He guided Charlton to the Play-Offs in 2009-10, when they lost to Swindon in the Semi-Finals.

He steered Bradford City to the League Cup Final in 2012-13, before overseeing promotion from League Two, then 11th and 7th-placed finishes the following two seasons.

‘Parky’ then steered the Bantams to a Play-Off finish in 2015-16, when they were defeated by Millwall, prior to departing for Bolton Wanderers.

Despite the off-field issues at Bolton, Parkinson inspired the club to promotion at the first attempt in 2016-17.

Gallant work at Bolton

That promotion-winning Trotters side had a sturdy, powerful spine, spearheaded by target man Gary Madine, with one or two individuals like Zach Clough or Sammy Ameobi who could produce something special.

The following season, financial issues deepened as criticisms of Ken Anderson’s running of the club came to the surface.

The fact Bolton stayed up on the final day, having taken just two points from their first 11 games, is credit to Parkinson and the belief he instilled in his players.

Although naturally results went awry the following year due to the club’s failure to pay wages, there was in some ways much to admire about the fact Parkinson stuck to the task, even up to the first month of this season, with scant resources and a group of youth team players.

Clean sheet specialist

Since Sunderland’s relegation from the Championship, they have kept just 13 clean sheets in 56 league one games.

They struggled to find the right defensive combination last season and although Jordan Willis has become a mainstay since signing from Coventry in the summer, settling on the best partner for him has been challenging while there has been changes in the full-back positions, too. In Parkinson’s last 184 games as a manager at this level, his sides have kept 67 clean sheets.

In his promotion-winning Bolton side, for example, they had a consistent centre-back pairing of David Wheater and Mark Beevers, protected by tenacious ball-winner Jay Spearing – that was a defensive formula they could rely on every week.

Sunderland could benefit from a bit more stability at the back, which Parkinson would bring.


Tactically limited

Parkinson’s tactics at Bolton could at times be described as defensive and long ball.

Of course, the 51-year-old would argue, with some validity, that he was adapting to his resources.

However, one might question whether he has proved himself to be capable of coaching movement and passing sequences to as a high a standard as other contenders for the job.

Sunderland are among the biggest clubs in English football outside the Premier League – bar one or two others – so they have the means to attract an advanced tactician.

Squad unsuitability?

Parkinson’s more successful teams have generally had a target man; David Mooney at Charlton, James Hanson at Bradford, Madine at Bolton – certainly in the latter two cases, his teams were built around those players.

The closest thing to a target man at Sunderland would be Charlie Wyke, but he has struggled this season and is not as effective at this level as Hanson and Madine were in their prime.

With top, nippy League One strikers in the squad, like Will Grigg and Marc McNulty, not to mention very gifted players such as Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady, some might say Sunderland would be wasting their squad by trying to hit Wyke early.

Short-termist move

If Parkinson were to take Sunderland up this season, it would be very difficult to see him leading the club forward in the Championship, just because there are a lot of other coaches in that league with more innovative ideas.

Part of the reason Sunderland experienced their decline is because they made too many commitments to satisfy a short-term objective, lost sight of their identity and ultimately, lost the connection with supporters.

Not all fans will just want a manager who has experience of promotion; some might want a manager who will excite them and make them feel like they can go on a journey as a football club, beyond the current campaign.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

Parkinson has a lot of strong points as a manager – organisation, composure, persistence in adversity and ability to instil a reliable work ethic, not to mention his record at League One level.

While some of those strengths will be applicable to this job, one could question whether he has the tactical ideas to represent a distinct improvement on his predecessor.

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John Sheridan
John Sheridan
(Swindon Town)
18th April
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