Why Mark Warburton is the best man for Sunderlandby Gabriel Sutton / 29 April 2018, 18:12Tweet
The reason for Sunderland’s demise on the field, aside from the obvious problems off it, is often perceived to be a lack of fight on it.
What Friday’s 2-1 defeat at Fulham suggested though, is almost the opposite: the team was so focused on working hard to deny space in the defensive phases of play, that they didn’t place enough importance on developing a playing identity of their own.
Their use of the ball rarely extended beyond hopeful punts vaguely in the direction of Ashley Fletcher; although the striker’s athleticism helped create the opening goal straight from Jason Steele’s route one kick, results dictate that that method is unsustainable.
While the midfield consists of willing runners like academy graduates George Honeyman and Ethan Robson, raw energy won’t be in short supply; what counts is how they utilize it.
The 55-year-old has a terrific record. Five months after taking his first management job in December 2013, he led Brentford to promotion, then to a Championship play-off spot in their debut Championship season.
While disagreements with owner Matthew Benham saw him leave the following summer, he then led Rangers to a Scottish Championship title and Challenge Cup double in 2015/16.
Hopefully having a new owner shows the youngsters that we have a plan, which will hopefully encourage them to renew their contracts— Lew (@Lew_Safc) April 29, 2018
Warburton then kept a struggling Nottingham Forest up in the Championship before overseeing steady progress in midtable, whilst playing a key role in the development of youngsters such as Kieran Dowell, Joe Worrall and Tyler Walker.
He did that by encouraging his players to be brave. The man who received the ball always opened his body up and looked to move forward or play a positive pass, while his teammates were encouraged to make bold runs.
That progressive mentality is why Forest scored 44 goals in 34 games under Warburton, but have become the division’s second lowest scorers with 16 in 20 since he left.
There are a lot of Sunderland players who could benefit hugely from a positive coach. Forwards Joel Asoro and Josh Maja have impressed in flashes this term and there is a nice crop of youngsters bubbling through; the likes of Elliott Embleton and Bali Mumba made the bench last time out while Duncan Watmore, who has played in the Premier League, is hoped to be fit next term.
At a time when there is very little to be positive about Sunderland right now, the progress of youngsters provides a few small rays of light: it is on that that the club must build.