SERENDIPIDITY is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a beneficial way”. The appointment of Mike Dodds as Sunderland’s interim head coach until the end of the season has happened more by accident than design, but after 63 days of chaos, perhaps the Black Cats have stumbled across the solution they should have chosen two months ago. Better to be serendipitous than to stick to a ‘project’ that isn’t working.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus could have installed Dodds as their new head coach in December, but decided the 37-year-old was not the right man for them. He was too inexperienced, “still an early stage of his coaching journey” according to Speakman, and there were better, more appealing candidates out there. Someone called Michael Beale, apparently.

Well, we all know how that went. But while Sunderland’s reputation has been dented by the events of the past two months, along with the club’s prospects of finishing in the play-offs, and the relationship between the Black Cats hierarchy and the fanbase has been damagingly frayed, the end result might not actually be a bad one. In Dodds, Speakman and Louis-Dreyfus are fortunate to have a ready-made short-term answer to their problems who could yet up being the right long-term option too.

If nothing else, at least the former first-team coach has proved he is capable of leading the side successfully in the Championship. The victories over West Brom and Leeds United during his previous caretaker reign came against two of the sides currently sitting in the top six, and suggested Dodds is more than capable of managing in different ways.

Against West Brom, he went toe-to-toe with one of the in-form teams in the league, pushing his side onto the front foot, playing Jobe Bellingham through the middle, and succeeding thanks to second-half goals from Dan Ballard and Dan Neil. Against Leeds, he changed formation entirely, playing with three centre-halves and switching to five at the back to successfully shackle one of the most potent attacking units in the Championship. It was bold and it was innovative, and it unquestionably took Leeds by surprise. Aside from the 5-0 thrashing of Southampton back in September, it probably remains Sunderland’s most accomplished performance of the season.

True, the following game against Bristol City was a disappointment, with Dodds’ side losing 1-0 at Ashton Gate. In fairness to the then caretaker though, he is hardly the only manager to have wrestled unsuccessfully with Sunderland’s away form this season.


Even after the Black Cats were beaten in Bristol, there was still a general sense amongst supporters that if it wasn’t to be Will Still – and by then, it had become pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be – then Dodds probably deserved a shot at the job. He would certainly have been a more popular choice than Beale, and his stock has only risen further given everything that has happened in the subsequent two months.

So, while there will be understandable grumbling about the bigger picture when Sunderland return to action against Swansea City at the weekend, Dodds’ presence in the technical area at the Stadium of Light should at least ensure the return of some much-needed unity. Sunderland’s fans will back Dodds no matter what happens in the next 13 matches. That could be crucial given that, for all the problems of the Beale era, the Black Cats are just four points off the play-off positions.

Does Dodds want to be the man in charge? That was somewhat unclear back in December, when he admitted the intensity of his caretaker spell had left him exhausted. At the time, he seemed happy to continue his coaching progression out of the limelight, but he has agreed to step up again and will presumably outline his current thinking when he speaks to the press later in the week.

He has always backed himself, as evidenced by his willingness to return to the dugout earlier this season after his initial caretaker spell in League One, prior to the appointment of Alex Neil, had featured defeats to Doncaster Rovers and Cheltenham Town, and crucially, he enjoys the support of the players.

Whatever was the real reason behind the Trai Hume non-handshake at the weekend, relationships under Beale had become strained. Dodds, who remained a hands-on coach working regularly with the first-team squad while Beale was in charge, will quickly rebuild bonds and get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.

The next 13 games present him with an opportunity to show Speakman and Louis-Dreyfus what they missed out on two months ago, and could yet result in Sunderland forcing their way into the play-offs. Beyond that? Who knows. But having got so much wrong this season, perhaps the fates are conspiring in the Black Cats’ favour.