WHEN Jack Ross was dismissed a little over 13 months ago, Sunderland were sixth in the table. After a period of deliberation, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven turned to Phil Parkinson because, in the words of the latter, he was ‘as near as you get to a guarantee of promotion from League One’. Today, when Parkinson was sacked, Sunderland were eighth. It is safe to say things have not gone to plan in the last year.

Parkinson’s failure to win promotion last season was disappointing, but perhaps excusable. He inherited a side that had become stuck in a rut under Ross, and had shrugged off the effects of a poor start to his managerial reign to steer his side back into the heart of the promotion race when Covid struck. Scuppered by a last-minute concession against Gillingham and a defeat at Bristol Rovers, Sunderland missed out on a place in the play-offs by the smallest of margins when the points-per-game calculations were totted up.

Yet if last season’s failings could be attributed, in part at least, to bad luck, the fact there have been no signs of improvement in the first two-and-a-half months of the current campaign is what has ultimately cost Parkinson his job. If the current season was halted now, and the positions determined by points-per-game, Sunderland would still not be in the play-off places. Thirteen games in, and that is simply not good enough.

Why was Parkinson unable to repeat his promotion successes at Bradford and Bolton on Wearside? He will argue deficiencies within the squad proved impossible to solve once the EFL voted in a salary cap, but the truth is that his safety-first doctrine and tactical conservatism held Sunderland back.

Parkinson wanted his team to be solid and well-organised, but while he established a reasonably secure base, he was unable to improve performances at the other end of the field. As had been the case under Ross, Parkinson’s Sunderland side did not score enough goals and proved incapable of putting teams to bed and building on a lead.

A lack of pace and creativity in the attacking positions was a major issue, yet Parkinson made no attempt to address it in two consecutive transfer windows. His squad was crying out for some speed and energy in attack, yet he brought in the likes of Bailey Wright and Josh Scowen to bolster defence and midfield and signed Danny Graham up front when the 35-year-old offered nothing different to what he already had.

Falling out with Aiden McGeady was a key moment as it deprived Sunderland of their most creative player, even though he was at the Academy of Light training with the Under-23s. Parkinson’s rationale for keeping McGeady out in the cold was that it would enable him to give Sunderland’s youngsters more of a chance. Yet here we are about to head into December, and Jack Diamond, Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil are all still waiting for their first league start of the season.

As was the case under Ross, Sunderland continue to draw too many games, and after the bitter disappointment of defeats to Mansfield and MK Dons, it is fitting that Parkinson’s reign ended with successive 1-1 draws against Doncaster and Fleetwood.

He will argue the results were ‘not too bad’. However, ‘not too bad’ is simply not good enough when you are the manager of a Sunderland team playing in League One.