OPINION: Blackpool’s players can take full advantage of Sunderland’s struggles
Now the fun and games of the Fleetwood Town game are behind us – until March at least – focus now turns to the intriguing spectacle of Simon Grayson making his return to the Stadium of Light.
The Blackpool boss, now enjoying his second spell in charge at Bloomfield Road, was infamously sacked at Sunderland in 2017 after just four months in charge.
It was an acrimonious ending on Wearside, which was made worse in that it was beamed to millions in the club’s Netflix documentary.
Grayson won just one of his 18 games in charge, yet anybody who watched the series or has an iota of knowledge of the club will realise the problems at Sunderland go well beyond what happens on the pitch.
Chris Coleman took over and yet, despite being painted in a positive light in the documentary – while Grayson was made out to be the bad guy – he was unable to save them from relegation to the third tier.
That’s where they remain – in 11th position in fact, having lost eight of their last 12 games in all competitions since Phil Parkinson took the manager’s job.
Considered a safe pair of hands, Parkinson is now facing serious pressure from the fanbase who are desperate to see the club back where they believe it should belong.
Parkinson, of course, arrived to replace Jack Ross, who was axed despite guiding the Black Cats to the play-off and EFL Trophy finals.
His style of football was pragmatic and frustratingly dogged at times, so I can see why he received little love. But it’s unfair to say he did a bad job during his time in the North East.
Clearly there are deep-rooted problems that can be traced back to the club’s time in the Premier League, where Sunderland barely managed to tread water before their inevitable relegation in 2017.
Very little of this is a concern for Blackpool fans, of course, but this all adds up to a priceless opportunity for the Seasiders to capitalise upon.
Should Pool emerge victorious this Saturday you’d have to imagine that will be it for Parkinson, who many observers expected to get the boot this week after Sunderland lost 1-0 at Gillingham last weekend.
As it stands he remains in post and, from everything we’re hearing, that will remain the case until at least 5pm on Saturday.
Sunderland may have only lost at home once in the league this season, but I see no reason why Blackpool can’t alter that particular statistic.
Last season I was astounded by the toxicity inside the stadium and by how swiftly the restless crowd turned on their players.
When the Stadium of Light crowd gets behind their team, it makes for an intimidating atmosphere that is incredibly difficult to deal with for opposition players.
But, on the flip side, when the boos are ringing out as early as the 10th minute and the home faithful are bemoaning every misplaced touch or wayward pass, that anxiousness spreads to their own players extremely quickly.
There seems to be no happy medium, the fans are either on their side or they’re not.
The stadium is either a cauldron of noise giving constant backing to their players or booing and berating them non-stop. These mood swings can change in a matter of minutes.
As the well-worn football cliché goes, if the Seasiders can frustrate them early on and even nick an early goal, that could make for some ugly scenes that could ultimately spell the end for their manager.
I completely understand why Sunderland fans aren’t happy to be in the third tier, a club of their size and stature shouldn’t be anywhere near League One.
But they are and at some point they’re going to have to come to terms with it. The only way to enjoy success in any league is to have everybody pulling in the same direction. Clearly that’s far from the case right now.
While Sunderland are a huge club for this level, they should know by now League One is not an easy division and they have no divine right to waltz back into the Championship.
I recall their astonishment earlier in the campaign when they were beaten 2-0 by Lincoln City. “It’s Lincoln, for God’s sake”, I remember reading.
It’s that sort of arrogance and self-entitlement that will get you nowhere.
Indeed, since losing to the Imps, Sunderland have also tasted defeat against other so-called ‘smaller clubs’ such as Wycombe Wanderers, Shrewsbury Town, Scunthorpe United, Burton Albion and, as already mentioned, Gillingham.
For Blackpool’s sake, let’s hope Sunderland’s malaise continues for another week at least.