Even in this strangest of years, it has been the same old story at Sunderland.
Another year has passed, another new manager has come in, another team are underperforming on the pitch, and another takeover is currently hanging in balance – uncertainty has been a constant on Wearside for a few years now, but are better times ahead?
Since the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2017, it has been a downward trajectory. There have been the odd glimpses of progress throughout the past few seasons, but they are mostly always followed by an abject on-field performance or off-field gaffe.
But after years of apathy and disappointment, the club are turning to a fresh system to try and finally turn the ship around.
In December, Lee Johnson became Sunderland’s 11th manager in 10 years following the sacking of Phil Parkinson.
You could claim that Parkinson had been unlucky. The curtailment of last season’s League One campaign due to Covid-19 and the eventual league standings being decided by points-per-game led to Sunderland falling to eighth, even though they had achieved the same points (59) as eventual play-off winners Wycombe.
But a below-average start to this campaign accompanied with turgid defensive football proved too much for the club’s hierarchy, and Parkinson’s thirteen-month reign came to an end.
“Phil Parkinson’s biggest error was that he signed too many players of similar ilk,” says former Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott, who helped the Black Cats to promotion to the Premier League under Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane respectively. “His team played a very one-dimensional style that didn’t bring success consistently.
“I feel Lee Johnson has come in and recognised that the team are lacking vital elements needed for a side to be successful in this division.”