DAN BALLARD claims Sunderland’s performances in the last two matches provide a perfect illustration of Mike Dodds’ coaching credentials, but admits the club’s players have no idea what will happen come the end of the season.

Dodds’ latest spell in interim charge did not get off the best of starts, with the Black Cats winning just one of their first eight matches following the departure of former boss Michael Beale, a spell which included a humiliating 5-1 home defeat to relegation-threatened Blackburn.

Last week’s spirited goalless draw at title-chasing Leeds United was much more like it, with Dodds’ decision to switch to a back five coming up trumps, and Sunderland dented the ambitions of another promotion hopeful at the weekend as they beat West Brom at the Hawthorns.

Ballard played an integral role in the win over the Baggies, which featured a fifth clean sheet in the space of six games, and the centre-half has been hugely impressed with Dodds’ impact since stepping into the managerial breach in mid-February.

“The gaffer’s tactics are spot on every week,” said Ballard, who silenced the jeers of the home fans at the weekend. “Even against Blackburn, that was down to the players. He’s a brilliant coach, and he sets us up perfectly every week. It’s then about us keeping our concentration.

“It is tough, playing twice a week in the Championship. You never know what team you’re going to come up against, so games like that (the Blackburn defeat) will happen. We were disappointed, but I think we’ve learned from it.

“He’s (Dodds) said it himself, that the Blackburn game was a learning curve for him. That’s not to take anything off the players because it was our fault. But even though it was our fault, he still took the blame, which shows a good coach.

“We respect him. He’s done really well, he works so hard behind the scenes and it’s nice to be able to deliver some good results for him because he works so hard and he’s a brilliant guy and a brilliant coach.”

As things stand, the plan is for Dodds to step aside at the end of the season, with Sunderland appointing a new permanent head coach in his place.


While Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus have been drawing up a shortlist of candidates, formal interviews are yet to take to place.

Sunderland’s players do not know what the future will hold, but there is a clearly a strong bond between Dodds and the first-team squad, and Ballard certainly hopes the current stand-in will continue to play a prominent role as part of the senior coaching set-up.

“All the lads had huge respect for him before, but we’ve maybe got more respect for him now because he’s had to take on a lot of work himself,” he said. “He did a lot of work behind the scenes before, but now the limelight is on him and he’s got that extra pressure.

“I don’t think it’ll change too much, whatever the decision is going forward, we don’t know. But we respect him and like him as a coach.”

Sunderland have three more games to play this term, with a trip to Vicarage Road to face Watford sandwiching home matches against Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday.

The Black Cats have nothing to play for in terms of the league table, with a play-off place and relegation now mathematical impossibilities, but Ballard is confident there will be no easing-up in the remaining games.

There is a determination to maintain the recent defensive improvement, and also add a bit more creativity and threat at the opposite end of the field.

“Take the Blackburn game out of it, and we have been very solid,” said Ballard. “We’ve limited some very good teams to not very much. We’ve probably sacrificed a little bit in the top area of the pitch – we haven’t scored as many goals as we would like – but I feel comfortable in that back four or back five, whatever system we play.

“We just want to try to keep solid as a team now, and try to create some more chances and have a positive end to the season. The fans definitely deserve it.”