WHEN Mike Dodds was appointed Sunderland caretaker boss back in December after the exit of Tony Mowbray, he faced questions about whether he could cope with the top job.

In his first interim stint, Dodds had overseen defeats to Cheltenham and Doncaster, raising understandable concerns. But any doubts about Dodds disappeared a couple of months ago during an impressive spell as temporary boss before the ill-fated arrival of Michael Beale.

Dodds led the Black Cats to two eye-catching home victories over West Brom and Leeds, and although a defeat at Bristol City followed, performances and results earned the 37-year-old a promotion from first team coach to assistant manager. Now he's back in charge and will be the boss until the end of the season at least, so what can his previous stint tell us about what to expect from Dodds and his Sunderland side in the weeks ahead?


If there was one main takeaway from the three-game spell earlier this season it's that Dodds isn't afraid to think outside the box and won't shy away from bold decisions.

After impressively beating West Brom in his first game in charge, Dodds was understandably expected to stick with a similar side and set-up for the visit of Leeds United, who headed for Wearside on a seven-game unbeaten stretch at the time.

But the interim boss caught the visitors off guard by changing to a back three - a first for Sunderland this season - and it worked a treat, Jobe Bellingham scoring in the second half to secure a 1-0 win that remains one of the Black Cats' best results of the campaign so far.

Had that selection backfired, Dodds would have been in the firing line but he trusted his instincts and was rewarded for his bravery. Expect the unexpected in the coming weeks.


That game against West Brom looked destined to end goalless until a second half Sunderland substitution changed the game. The player who was introduced? Alex Pritchard.

The forward delivered the cross that was turned in by Dan Ballard to break the deadlock and then set Dan Neil away for Sunderland's second, in doing so earning a start against Leeds United. And he would keep his place at Bristol City.

We all know how things have since played out with Pritchard and while Dodds will have understood the reasons behind the 29-year-old's exit, from a football perspective he'll have undoubtedly been sad to see him go. With Patrick Roberts also out injured, the forward line will have a different look to how it did under Dodds a couple of months ago.



That leads us on to the subject of the strikers.

Dodds tried various options up-front during his three games in charge in December - but at no stage did he start with any of the club's recognised strikers.

Bellingham, Pritchard and even Jack Clarke led the line. At that stage, the arrival of another striker in the January transfer window felt inevitable but that didn't turn out to be the case. So, who does Dodds trust the most to lead the line now?

Nazariy Rusyn has scored twice since the turn of the year and, on the whole, has looked the best of the three strikers currently on the club's books. Mason Burstow broke his duck against Stoke but struggled against Middlesbrough the following week and lost his place before being recalled at Birmingham. Hemir has been a fringe figure all term.

Will Dodds succeed where Mowbray and Beale failed and get a consistent tune out of any of the club's strikers? Or will he again look for alternate options up-front?


Beale hit back at claims this week that he'd lost the dressing room, telling our sister site We Are Sunderland: "The players and staff were a pleasure to work with and reports of issues behind the scenes are a long way wide of the mark."

Regardless of what has or hasn't happened in the dressing room in recent weeks and no matter what the players made of Beale, Dodds will undoubtedly have the backing of the squad.

He's a respected long-term member of staff with a reputation for his work in developing young players. His close relationship with Jobe Bellingham is no secret and Dodds was a major factor behind the teenager's decision to join Sunderland in the summer.

"Regardless of the results, whoever takes this job has an unbelievable dressing room," said Dodds at the back-end of his last stint in charge.

"They have an honest group of players who are desperate to get better, that really want to propel this club to where we think we should be. Whether that happens or not, the outcome will be the outcome. I think the fans can see the players really want to play for the football club which hasn't always been the case."