For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Ball is in Short's court as interim head coach's job audition ends in defeat
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Man United 2
THE BBC's marketing department likes to bill “The Apprentice” as the most public and pressurised job interview going. After the experience of the last two weeks, however, interim Sunderland head coach, Kevin Ball, might beg to differ.
You're hired? The next few days should provide the answer to that, with Ellis Short having used Saturday's programme notes to concede he feels the “weight of the entire city and beyond” as he ponders who to appoint as Paolo Di Canio's successor.
Is Ball the right man? The jury remains divided. But while the former Sunderland skipper might have been unable to deliver a first Premier League victory in his two league games in charge, he will still end his temporary stint at the helm in considerable credit.
Charged with the task of steadying the ship and bridging some of the divides that had been created by Di Canio, Ball has successfully begun the daunting task of turning an ailing club around. If he is to leave his post this week, he will hand things over in a much more stable state than the chaotic shambles he inherited a fortnight ago.
“Credit should be given not just to me, but everybody at the club,” said Ball, who watched his side dominate the opening 45 minutes against Manchester United, only for a superb second-half double from youngster Adnan Januzaj to leave Sunderland six points adrift of safety at the foot of the table. “All the staff have mucked in great and the players have worked very hard.
“What I keep saying to them is that it's not just for now – it should be forever. It should underpin the whole of this club, a philosophy, a legacy if you want to call it that, in the way it should be all the time.
“There should be no grey areas about that when you come and play for this club. You should know who and what you represent, and what you need to do to go about being the best you can for them.”
It is that type of attitude that has always endeared Ball to Sunderland's supporters, and after Di Canio appeared hell-bent on ripping the club apart, there is a lot to be said for the soothing influence of a loyal servant who understands the importance of the bond between players and fans, and the wider significance of nurturing the identity of the football club.
“It's been good to work with him (Ball), a really positive experience,” said Jozy Altidore, who became the latest Sunderland player to publicly advance the caretaker's cause. “I think everyone has responded really well in the last couple of weeks and hopefully that will stand us in good stead moving forward.”
For perhaps the first time all season, the Black Cats performed as a team that was greater than the sum of its parts in the opening 45 minutes of Saturday's game. There was passion, commitment and intensity from the off, but just as significantly in terms of Ball's long-term job prospects, there was also a welcome degree of organisation.
Extending an olive branch to Lee Cattermole has surely been Ball's wisest move, with the skipper's positional discipline and leadership qualities instantly helping to solidify the midfield.
The return of Ondrej Celustka at right-back enabled Craig Gardner to push forward into his preferred midfield berth, and the latter was on hand in the fifth minute to drill home a powerful low shot after Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic had both made a complete mess of attempting to clear a cross from Emanuele Giaccherini.
Had Sunderland secured the second goal their first-half dominance probably deserved, things might have been very different. But David De Gea produced a remarkable save to keep out a Giaccherini header, and the Italian blazed over on the stroke of half-time after Adam Johnson's trickery had teed him up in the box.
Cue the somewhat inevitable second-half fightback from Manchester United, capped by two wonderful strikes from Januzaj, who side-footed home after a slick one-two with Patrice Evra before cracking home a ferocious first-time volley after John O'Shea had failed to clear Nani's centre.
For all that the reigning champions are also in a state of flux under new boss David Moyes, better sides than Sunderland will succumb to them this season.
Yet for all that there is no disgrace in losing to Manchester United, the Black Cats' tame second-half surrender nevertheless raised questions about the wisdom of appointing Ball permanently. As was the case against Liverpool, Sunderland produced an improved display. Yet for the second home game in succession, they ended up being reasonably comfortably beaten.
Should Ball have changed his tactics once Manchester United began to dominate possession towards the end of the first half and started the second period in complete control? With his side 2-1 down, why did he take off Adam Johnson, who had been enjoying considerable success, in order to station Ji Dong-won on the left-hand side? For all his admirable qualities, is Ball too close to the players, thereby negating the impact of some of his urgings?
The 48-year-old is in his second spell as Sunderland's caretaker boss, and his record is now one win from 12 matches. It would be misguided to simplistically translate that across the rest of the season, but with much more proven candidates available, it would also be wrong to ignore the fact that Ball's top-flight experience is both limited and heavily predicated upon losing thus far.
Comments are closed on this article.