Date: 9th December 2011 at 12:22pm
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Prior to our big match with Sunderland on Sunday I have managed to round up two Sunderland experts to give us the low down from their side of the fence

With such a big match coming up on Sunday it seems only fair that we get a perspective or two from the opposition.

Add into the mix that the home side are near the trapdoor of relegation likes ourselves and have just appointed a brand new manager who takes charge for the first time at the weekend with our very own Rovers providing the opposition.

I have been lucky enough to speak to Tom Bodell of Vital Sunderland and Pete Sixsmith of our old friends Salut Sunderland this week and have asked both their opinions on all things Sunderland, Blackburn and Martin O’Neill.

Sit back with a brew and enjoy this one –

1. So, Steve Bruce has gone and Martin O`Neill is the new man in charge. Happy about this? Was it the right move?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – Yes, absolutely. I’m a big advocate of giving a manager as long as possible and not making knee-jerk decisions. However, Bruce had very obviously lost the majority of the vocal support at the Stadium of Light and there is no way back from that frankly, short of winning every game between now and May and delivering the Premier League title! And for those who took against him from day one because of his Mag roots, he was never onto a winner.

With regards to Martin O’Neill, I’ve not heard nor read one single person who’s against his appointment. The consensus is that he is a good manager with excellent pedigree, both in this league and others who can crucially provide the charisma needed to galvanize players and supporters alike.

Bruce was a decent bloke and always came across well in interviews but he never really displayed the same sort of passion that O’Neill has. Though it will probably only amount to incremental improvement on the pitch, it will buy him time at the very least to get things right.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – Yes to both. Bruce`s time was up after a disastrous run of home games – only 3 wins at The Stadium of Light since we beat you on New Years Day. Add to that an awful cup defeat to the mighty Notts. County and some football that made pre anaesthetic dentistry seem fun, he had to go. The inability to beat a Wigan side that is certain to go down was the last straw for all of us. He ran out of support in the crowd and in the boardroom.

As for Martin O`Neill, he was one of two possible appointments (Mark Hughes was the other). I would have been pleased with either, but O`Neill was the obvious choice and I am sure that he was sounded out before the official sacking of Bruce.

He is a good fit for the club – ambitious, articulate and aware of the role of the club in the area. We don`t need to make too much of his boyhood allegiance – I supported Sunderland at his age and I would be a useless manager. The key thing is that he has improved every club he has been with, except Norwich and he resigned on a matter of principle there.

2. With our own protests going on, it`s easy to forget that others weren`t exactly pleased with their own boss. Was the pressure on Bruce to quit intense?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – You need only have heard his comments – ‘it was bordering on abuse’, and to be fair, it was. The Wigan defeat (his last game in charge) ended with a chorus of ‘you fat Geordie bastard’.

The fact Bruce is actually from Northumbria is lost on a few fans, but he was not well-liked during the final few weeks of his reign.

Supporters turn very quickly as you yourselves have seen and with herd mentality so rife, it spelt the end.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – It was after the debacle against Wigan. It had been building up all season as the team struggled and it became clear that he had run out of ideas. Supporters often see things that managers can`t; they have seen so many poor players and poor tactics. In Steve`s case, we saw them long before he did.

He spent a fair bit of money in the summer but the signings have not come off for one reason or another. That puts pressure on him and he wasn`t helped by an abject second half display against a poor Newcastle United side. They went from strength to strength and we slid down the league.

3. Sunderland have been painted as “underachieving” this season. Is this a fair comment?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – Yes, definitely. Bruce had been quick to point out that some people’s expectations had been too high following last season where we finished 10th.

That position was something of an outlier though, earnt on the basis of our performances from the first-half of the season. This slump has been going on since the turn of the year, but with heavy re-investment this summer people were expecting us to challenge for the top-half again, which was always going to be a challenge.

I do still think some people have their hopes pinned on unobtainable positions, but there’s no Sunderland supporter out there who would expect us to be 17th right now.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – You could say that we have been underachieving for 75 years. We have one trophy in that time and have gone through shed loads of money. The club is a big one – large catchment area, a solid fan base, a fine stadium and a glorious history. It should be a regular in the upper echelons of the Premier League.

For many of us it is galling that much smaller clubs like Fulham, Wigan and Middlesbrough have had far more success than we have.

As for this season, we should be doing better than we are. Hopefully O`Neill will push us up the league.

4. What have you made of the current situation at Blackburn Rovers?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – I’ve said all along that I feel extremely sorry for Rovers supporters.

The Venky’s family clearly have no idea how to run a football club and have dragged the club’s good name along in an embarrassing fashion since they took over.

The fact that they decided to sack Sam Allardyche and replace him with a man without any managerial experience is ridiculous.

That Steve Kean has ‘warranted’ a contract extension is beyond comprehension – I wasn’t aware that Chelsea were lining him up to replace Andre-Villa Boas!

I feel for Kean though, he is just trying to do the job he has been given, and who would turn down the opportunity to manage a Premier League club? His relentless positivity is admirable and a few club’s supporters could do with a bout of that. He has been put up on a pederstool by the Venky family and is taking a lot of flack for their mistakes.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – Where to start? It looks as if the owners have been given a book called “How To Run A Football Club” and haven`t got past the first chapter which says “Wherever possible back your manager”. Steve Kean is probably a decent coach but he isn`t a manager. Some can do both (Moyes, Hodgson), others delegate coaching to others (Ferguson, O`Neill). Kean looks caught in the middle. If I were a Blackburn fan, I could forgive him much, but the admission that they were not bothered about the Cardiff game would turn me against him. A similar thing finished Megson at Bolton and caused a rift between O`Neill and Villa fans.

The owners look as if they are struggling and have bought something which they do not understand – a bit like me with a sat nav or an i-pad; I want one, but I`m not knowledgeable enough to make it work properly.

5. Any players you have seen at Blackburn that you like the look of?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – Yakubu would be a good addition. We already have one lump up front, but at least the Yak shows a bit and scores a few goals.

A man who can bag nine goals in a struggling side would be a great addition for a (albeit slightly less) struggling side. We are also bereft of strikers.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – Chris Samba of course – an excellent central defender and not a bad forward. Junior Hoilet looks a good one and I admired Phil Jones. David Goddwillie for his name. Always thought a bit about David Dunn, but I think his best days are behind him.

6. Make up a side of Sunderland and Rovers players using no more than 7 from one side!

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – Westwood (This was virtually a dead heat – Robinson/Westwood/Mignolet); Brown, Samba, Nelsen, Olsson; Larsson, Formica, Cattermole, Sessegnon; Hoilett; Yakubu.

Peter, Salut Sunderland – Westwood; Bardsley, Samba, Nelsen, Richardson; Larsson, Dunn, Sessegnon, Hoilett; Yakubu, Bendtner.

Not a side to send shivers down the spine of the likes of Wenger, AVB or Redknapp is it? Not well balanced either, but I don`t think we have a really good central midfielder between us.

7. Can I grab a prediction please?

Tom Bodell, Vital Sunderland – Being completely biased, 2-1 to Sunderland! We’ve got to win according to O’Neill and he’s right, our season starts now and unfortunately, at Blackburn’s expense.

Ha’way the lads!

Peter, Salut Sunderland – You spoilt our welcoming party for Lawrie McMenemy in 1985, but I don`t see it happening this time. 2-0 to Sunderland.

Thank you to both Tom and Peter for taking time to speak to us! A very good read and nice to get a contrast of views

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