Niall Quinn’s departure from Sunderland this week will have saddened many, but for others, the decision represents a new dawn. Colleagues and fans alike were quick to express their appreciation for the man who has worked steadfastly towards the goal of restoring Sunderland’s deep heritage. Finally, and almost unexpectedly, it appears that goal has been achieved.
A few month’s back the picture wasn’t quite so clear, with the team going from bad-to-worse under Steve Bruce. Many were worried by a string of results and performances that threatened a relegation battle. Quinn and his board needed to take action.
The results of those actions have been there for all to see.Bruce was jettisoned and replaced by the infectious and inspiring Martin O’ Neill. Almost overnight the mood at the club changed with the club looking upwards in the league and an FA Cup quarter-final against Everton to come.
That Quinn should have made this decision at this moment is significant.To quote Quinn’s departing words:
“From a football perspective, securing the services of Martin O’Neill has been an absolute highlight.
In Martin, we have a man that understands the region, the club and the unique place it holds in the lives of its supporters, and I am confident that he will harness the immense passion that exists here and take us to new heights.”
This weekend sees Marin O ‘ Neill take his side to The Hawthorns to face a West Brom side that has taken just eight points from 12 home games this season. In addition, Roy Hodgson’s side have managed just nine goals at home this campaign-the lowest of any side in the division. However Hodgson’s team have reason to take heart from the 5-1 drubbing of local rivals Wolves which brought the tenure of Mick McCarthy to an end.
Sunderland have two wins and two defeats from O’Neill’s four away games,albeit with those two defeats coming at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane respectively. Given last weekend’s dismantling of Arsenal, O’Neill and co should travel to The Hawthorns confident of earning maximum points. Yet despite Sunderland’s impressive form, a look at the stats over the course of the season shows there is not much to choose between the sides:
Defeat for O’ Neill’s side would leave them just one point ahead of the baggies, but there is enough in recent form to suggest that eventuality should not arise. In O’ Neill’s 11 league games to date the side has scored 19 goals and conceded just 9. Furthermore the manager has instilled a defensive solidity, with six clean sheets in the sides last 11 games in all competitions. Against a side struggling for goals in front of their own fans, O’Neill must surely be confident of a shut out this weekend.
While many of the stats in the above table are similar, there are some notable differences which highlight the varying approach of the two managers.West Brom’s superior passing accuracy is a reflection of Hodgson’s considered approach.Sunderland favor a more direct approach, and are more inclined to attack from wide areas, as is evidenced by the figure for total number of crosses.
Interestingly, while West Brom create chances more frequently, it would appear that the type of chance they create are not as clear-cut as those created by the Mackems. While West Brom create a chance every eight minutes, their shooting accuracy and chance conversion is well below that of Sunderland. This would appear to give weight to the notion that O’Neill’s side are now attacking with increased dynamism and are thus more likely to create and score from more opportune positions.One point worth mentioning is the fact that the above table combines the record of both O’Neill and Bruce, and as such cannot be viewed as a completely accurate relection of Sunderland in their current incarnation.
The last time the sides met it was honors even at the Stadium of Light, a 2-2 scoreline which was greeted with howls of derision form the terraces. The line-up that day read Mignolet,O’Shea, Turner, Brown,Richardson,Elmohamady,Cattermole, Gardener,Larsson,Sessegnon,Bendtner.
While the personnel this weekend may be largely the same, the performances are scarcely recognizable from the type of confidence shorn insipid displays evident in the latter days of the Bruce era. The performances of the forward players have truly been transformed, with Stephane Sesssegnon one of the stand-out performers in the league in 2012. Added to that is considerable danger posed by Seb Larsson and the increasing influence of the effervescent James McClean, no doubt buoyed by his inclusion in the latest Republic of Ireland squad.
The journey is just beginning for Martin O’ Neill at Sunderland but as Quinn will testify the road ahead looks bright. Victory at the Hawthorns this weekend would be a fitting send off for the man who has done so much for Sunderland.
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All of the stats in this article are from the EPLIndex.com Stats Centre: Subscribe for access now!