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View From The Town End: Sunderland

Jaap Stam’s Royals visit Chris Coleman’s Black Cats, but what can we expect from the opposition on Saturday? We asked some Sunderland experts for their take.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Many thanks to our Sunderland-supporting cousins at Roker Report, who also write under the SB Nation banner, for taking the time to answer our questions ahead of the game on Saturday.

If you want some extra listening before the match, check out their Roker Rapport podcast featuring our very own BucksRoyal.

What went wrong for Simon Grayson?

What went right? Let me start by saying that Simon Grayson strikes me as a nice guy. Within his first week at Sunderland one of our colleagues at Roker Report happened to corner him at The Ramside Hotel in Durham, and he was kind and humble enough to sit and have a fat chat about the team, the region, the club; an all-round nice chap.

But let's also get one thing straight: Simon Grayson is a journeyman, and Sunderland AFC - both in size of the club and in scope of the enormity of the challenge - is not a journeyman's club. In short, that's what I believe went wrong. There is a much longer and drawn-explanation as to why it went precisely as wrong as it did, but that's a few years worth of articles archived on our site that you're more than welcome to peruse at your leisure.

The short answer is that he wasn't good enough, and the support given to him (and his predecessors) by the club was nowhere near a match for the task he was set.

Is Chris Coleman the man for the job?

More than most that have come before him. Within a matter of days he's breathed confidence into a deflated fan base, and he carries himself with a quiet authority that I believe is crucial in the modern dressing room, and in this Sunderland dressing room in particular. One game does not a good manager make, but in the greater context of his experience and the brief glimpse we've had of his tactical nous - yes, I believe that with the full support of the owner and CEO, Coleman is one for us.

How confident are you about Sunderland's long-term future? Is relegation to League One a real risk, or do you think the Black Cats can fight their way back to the Premier League within the next few seasons?

As it stands relegation is a distinct possibility for us right now. But a month ago it was a nailed-on certainty, so we've come on in a leap and a bound in that regard. The answer to that question is dependent entirely on the aforementioned support Coleman receives. Before he came in there was no money to spend to improve a very basic if workable squad, and now there still isn't any money to do that.

Coleman himself has said that transfers out will have to pave the way for incoming players. With such a thin squad and so few quality players, the balance is extremely delicate and losing anyone that's worth selling is arguably counter-productive if you ask me, but that's where we stand.

The short answer is that if the manager can't get a tune out of the half-dozen or so slackers we have or replace them with better models, we'll continue to be in the relegation scrap until the death. I've said before that this is the 11th hour for our club and I stand by that. The next 12-18 months will define our future, and the remainder of the season is a huge part of that.

What's going right for Sunderland right now?

We have a competent manager, a top goal scorer in Lewis Grabban, and a few real sparks of talent coming from both senior and junior levels, albeit fewer than we'd like.

And what's going wrong?

Some of that talent is laid up injured, those that aren't talented still dominate the team sheet, we haven't got a pot to piss in and there are still a lot of question marks when it comes to the overall direction of the club.

Any danger men for us to keep an eye on?

Grabban has proven he knows how to find the net in his short time with us, and while he's hardly a machine, if the ball falls to him in space I'd bet on him to make a good account of himself. The jury is still out on Aiden McGeady, whose performances since the departure of Grayson have left a lot to be desired.

Whether that's a slump or a sulk is anyone's guess, but if he gets over it you simply can't leave him alone on the wing because he'll run rampant. He's got the ability to change a game with a little trickery and a snap shot, so I'd always be mindful of him as an opponent.

There are whispers that Coleman has plans to feature some of the highly-rated youngsters in the not too distance future, and with our lack of depth and piling up wounded, there's a slim chance there'll be somewhat unknown quantities introduced to the equation. It's hard to predict what might happen, but unknown quantities are always potentially dangerous.

What do you make of Reading at the moment? Is there anyone in our team you're worried about facing?

As a bystander it's plain to see that you've got weight about you. While I've never found myself concerned with the goings on at Reading in the past, our current predicament means I'm aware of the means you possess to score goals. For a club like ours, that's as dangerous as you need to be.

To be honest though on paper our squad is on par with most teams in the league, there are no dramatic differences beyond the club's own unique inadequacies. In that sense I'm no more concerned about Reading than I have been the teams that have come before them. We're as vulnerable as we allow ourselves to be.

How do you see the match going? And what will the score be?

I'm a lot more optimistic than I've probably got cause to be. If my judgement of Coleman is sound, and the players have come around to his way of thinking as seamlessly as the most recent result might suggest, you're unlucky to have us at this pivotal moment in our season.

But on the flip side of that - if his message is taking longer than hoped to sink in and the same old Sunderland show up, it should be a simple three points for your lads. There are just too many 'ifs' right now. Since I'm a gambling man and it's not for money, I'm going to plump for a cool 1-0.