Sunderland: What’s Phil Parkinson done to turn around the most volatile club in English football?

Graham Ruthven by Graham Ruthven / 27 February 2020, 14:15

There is not a football club in England as volatile as Sunderland

Many players and managers have been chewed up and spat out at the Stadium of Light over the years and the 2019/20 season appeared to be following a familiar pattern when Jack Ross was sacked in October after a difficult start to the campaign.

Ross’ replacement has, however, started to turn the Black Cats around, with Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland now up to fourth in the League One table after an impressive run of eight wins and just the one defeat from his last 11 matches. 

A late equaliser against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night kept the club’s momentum going, but another big game against high-flying Coventry City looms this weekend. 

What is Parkinson doing right?

The appointment of Parkinson at the Stadium of Light wasn’t universally popular with the Sunderland fanbase, but the former Bolton and Bradford boss is proving his doubters wrong after a tricky initial spell in charge. 

Some fans wanted Parkinson sacked after a poor run of results in December. Now, though, Sunderland aren’t just in the playoff places, but the hunt for automatic promotion out of the division.

A tactical shift to a 3-4-2-1 shape proved to be a turning point in Sunderland’s season. 

Parkinson led the Black Cats to just two wins from his first 14 games (in all competitions) in charge, but they have now lost just one of their last 15 league games. 

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On The Up: In two months Phil Parkinson's Sunderland have gone from 15th to 4th in League One

The bolstered midfield means Sunderland are now much better at keeping hold of the ball through George Dobson and Max Power as the double pivot in the middle.

Initially, Parkinson’s Sunderland were accused of being long ball merchants, but that is no longer the case. 

In fact, the North East outfit have played some of the best football in the division over the past few months. Parkinson has solidified things at the back, with Sunderland also considered among the fittest sides in League One at this moment. Sunderland have momentum behind them and are back on the right track.

How far can Parkinson take Sunderland?

This weekend’s away clash against Coventry will say a lot about Sunderland’s chances of winning promotion back to the Championship. 

The Black Cats might have found a vein of excellent form since the turn of the year, but Coventry are in even better shape, winning five of their last six games and drawing the other one.

A win over Coventry would lift Sunderland up to third place at the very least and possibly even into the top two if Wycombe drop points away to Doncaster. 

Parkinson’s back three of Tom Flanagan, Alim Ozturk and Jordan Willis has given his side the defensive basis for him to build on top of. However, it is so tight near the top of the third-tier this season, with just nine points between Gillingham in 10th place and Wycombe in third place, that no conclusions can be drawn for at least another few weeks. 

Sunderland’s season could potentially come down to a final day showdown with fellow title-chasers Rotherham United. 

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