TONY MOWBRAY was sacked as Sunderland head coach last night, bringing an end to his 15-month tenure at the Stadium of Light.

What were the major highs and lows of Mowbray’s Wearside reign?



The Northern Echo: Tony MowbrayTony Mowbray (Image: Ian Horrocks)

One of the key parts of Mowbray’s remit as head coach was to develop and improve the young players in the Sunderland squad. In the vast majority of cases, his efforts proved a huge success.

Amad Diallo was the flagbearer for Sunderland’s youngsters last season, with Mowbray’s fatherly handling of the Manchester United loanee enabling the pair to forge a strong bond. Tellingly, Amad took to Instagram to praise his “gaffer” within minutes of Mowbray being sacked.

Anthony Patterson, Dan Neil and Jack Clarke all made giant strides under Mowbray last season, with the latter kicking on again in the current campaign. This term, it is the likes of Trai Hume, Niall Huggins and Pierre Ekwah who have developed quickest, with Abdoullah Ba and Chris Rigg bubbling away nicely beneath the surface.


The Northern Echo: Jack Clarke celebrates after scoring at ReadingJack Clarke celebrates after scoring at Reading (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Even those Sunderland fans who were beginning to lose faith with Mowbray prior to his departure would have to concede that his team played some of the best football produced by a Black Cats side for many a year.


Free-flowing, attacking play was the name of the game under Mowbray, especially on the counter-attack, with the second half of last season in particular delivering a series of memorable moments.

The best? Clarke’s counter-attacking goal at Reading takes some beating, with Sunderland sweeping from end of the field to the other before scoring at the Madejski Stadium.


The Northern Echo: Alex Pritchard scores against PrestonAlex Pritchard scores against Preston (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Everybody loves a bit of final-day drama, and it arrived for Sunderland in May as they travelled to Deepdale on the last day of the season needing to beat Preston and for other results to fall their way.

Mowbray’s side delivered their side of the bargain, brushing Preston aside 3-0 thanks to excellent second-half goals from Amad, Alex Pritchard and Clarke.

At the same time, Millwall were collapsing in remarkable fashion at the Den, throwing away the lead before eventually losing 4-3 to Blackburn. As the news filtered through to a packed-out away end in Lancashire, the red-and-white party well and truly began.


The Northern Echo: Tony MowbrayTony Mowbray (Image: Ian Horrocks)

When Mowbray arrived as Alex Neil’s replacement last August, his appointment was regarded as fairly underwhelming by a large number of Sunderland fans.

He didn’t win universal acclaim, but it is telling that the reaction to yesterday’s developments has generally been one of quiet regret.

As a son of the North-East, who has spent most of his life just down the A19, Mowbray got what being Sunderland manager was all about. Honest, down-to-earth and humble, it was pretty much impossible not to warm to the 60-year-old. His players certainly did, hence his ability to keep them all on board whether he was selecting them in his starting side or not.



The Northern Echo: Sunderland's players applaud the travelling fans after their defeat at LutonSunderland's players applaud the travelling fans after their defeat at Luton (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Having scrambled into the play-offs on the final day of last season, Sunderland made the ideal start to their semi-final when they beat Luton 2-1 at the Stadium of Light.

The return game at a hostile Kenilworth Road was always going to be a challenge though, and Mowbray’s youthful Sunderland side were simply not up to it, losing 2-0.

The absence of Danny Batth, Dan Ballard and Dennis Cirkin clearly hurt, meaning Mowbray had to start with Clarke and Patrick Roberts as wing-backs in a 3-4-3 formation. Ultimately, Luton’s superior physicality proved decisive.


The Northern Echo: An injured Ross StewartAn injured Ross Stewart (Image: Ian Horrocks)

While Sunderland played some scintillating attacking football under Mowbray, their best moments rarely involved a centre-forward.

Last season, the absence of Ross Stewart was a key factor in Mowbray’s tendency to regularly name a side without a recognised central striker. With Ellis Simms having been recalled to Everton in January, the second half of the campaign often saw Mowbray selecting Amad, Pritchard or Roberts as his side’s notional ‘number nine’.

This season, the options have been there, it is just that Mowbray has watched all four of his strikers – Mason Burstow, Nazariy Rusyn, Luis Hemir and Eliezer Mayenda – fail to score a single goal. How much of that is down to his tactics, or how much is due to the shortcomings of the quartet, will become clear in the next few weeks.


The Northern Echo: Kyril Louis-DreyfusKyril Louis-Dreyfus (Image: Ian Horrocks)

While Mowbray was pretty much singing from the same hymn sheet as those above him at the start of his reign, it quickly became apparent that there were tensions between the head coach and both sporting director Kristjaan Speakman and owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Reports that the club were lining up a possible replacement towards the end of last season clearly stung, and Mowbray became increasingly critical of Speakman’s recruitment policy and general aims.

His post-match comments at Millwall at the weekend were effectively a head-on challenge to the board, and ultimately they sealed his fate, heralding his dismissal.


The Northern Echo: Sunderland fans at the Stadium of LightSunderland fans at the Stadium of Light (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Last season, Sunderland won just seven of their 23 home matches, a record Mowbray admitted was simply not good enough for a side with ambitions of winning promotion. By means of comparison, Huddersfield and Rotherham, who finished 18th and 19th respectively, each claimed nine home wins.

Mowbray’s sides struggled to break down a well-organised opposition who were content to sit back, concede possession and look to strike on the break, hence last season’s home defeats to the likes of Cardiff, Swansea and Stoke.

Things have been marginally better this term, with Sunderland winning five of their nine home games to date, but last week’s dispiriting defeat to Huddersfield felt a return to bleaker times.