I can’t quite believe that I’m writing this; Lincoln City will take on Sunderland this weekend in Sky Bet League One as Michael Appleton will be looking to get his first win as Imps manager.
It’s a bit surreal that we will be coming up against Sunderland as equals. I’ve mentioned this countless times to my Sunderland supporting friends that had to endure our success during my time at university. When we started our degree in September 2016, Sunderland were in the the Premier League rubbing shoulders with Liverpool and Manchester United whereas we had just lock two games on the bounce to Dagenham and Sutton United. Just three years later, we meet in the third tier after their demise and our incredible rise.
I digress, I was able to catch up with Graham MacMillan-Mason, part of the Roker Report which is a website for Sunderland fans written by Sunderland fans, very similar to us here on the Stacey West.
1) Sunderland sit fifth in the table currently, are results papering over the cracks or are Sunderland finding a new gear to strive for automatic promotion?
That’s a tough one really. I wouldn’t say it’s papering over the cracks, but we’re also not really playing brilliantly. I suppose there’s two ways to look at it – currently, we’re winning, but not winning all that convincingly. We aren’t dominating games, but we aren’t losing any. We have looked better since Joel Lynch
Last season was a bit of a free hit for all concerned. In reality we were never going to walk the league last year due to all the off-field issues that had to be resolved – but there can be no excuses this season, we have to go up no matter what.
Many fans, myself included, don’t feel we look like certs for automatic promotion, where others have the mentality that it doesn’t matter how well you play as long as you win. It’s a tricky one at Sunderland, something’s not quite right, but I’m not sure what exactly.
2) Is there a lot of pressure on Jack Ross and his side to get promoted this season? Especially after going so close last season.
Yeah. Loads. Again, the fan base is a little bit divided, but since you’re asking me, I’ll give you my thoughts.
Jack Ross isn’t the right man, for me. He isn’t exactly helped by the recruitment team, but we still haven’t identified the problem areas all that well. He’s been doing a little better in recent weeks mind you. He seems to be benefiting from playing Luke O’Nien in the ten as opposed to shoehorning him in a right-back, and Joel Lynch has made a huge difference at the back.
Ultimately though, as I testified earlier, we aren’t winning games convincingly, and we seem to come unstuck when we play a half-decent side. It really shouldn’t be as tough to get promoted from this league with players like McGeady, Grigg, Wyke, Maguire and Power, but somehow Jack Ross doesn’t seem to progress us all that much. I hope to God I have egg on my face come May though.
3) What are your views on Lincoln City? As a club that four or five years ago Sunderland fans might never have thought they would face in a domestic league fixture.
Great club based on the past few seasons. The thing I love about League One as opposed to the Premier League is the focus on community at clubs like Lincoln – it’s exactly what football should be about, isn’t it?
I know Danny Cowley helped bring a lot of that to the club by engaging the fans and attending events, but it’s excellent to see you packing out your ground despite him leaving, singing loud and proud and generally taking on the challenge of League One and your board seemingly have an aspiration to go further.
To do that whilst keeping the community element as part of the plan is admirable and something I really like to see.
4) What do you put the club’s recent demise down to? Are the issues that were highlighted in the ‘Sunderland Till I Die’ series slowly getting fixed?
How long have you got?
I don’t hold too much animosity towards Ellis Short, but it was his inability to run a football club that ultimately killed us. We were like Dream Team at points! STID was essentially what remained after the mess of 7-8 years of mismanagement.
Ellis had all the right intentions, but employed the wrong people right across the board. He brought in business people to run a football club, not football people who knew how to run a football club. He also didn’t know what kind of football club he wanted to be. We had so many different directions, we were running into each other.
He splashed way too much cash on players for managers at the beginning such as £12m on Steven Fletcher, £5m on Danny Graham, £10m on Jack Rodwell etc. (we received ZERO resale from any of these players as they were all released by us…) but then he’d sack the manager and we’d rip the carpet up again. Eventually, we had a squad of under performing players on big wages that didn’t fit in the current manager’s plan. Sam Allardyce almost fixed it, but England ruined that for a grand total of one game, then David Moyes happened.
When Ellis realised how much he’d f***ed it, he essentially gave up and we fell down the leagues. If you really want to see how badly Sunderland messed up, type in the name ‘Ricky Alvarez’ on Google. £15m on a player who played eight games or something for us, and he was never a player we actually owned at any point ever. We also had Virgil van Dijk and Toby Alderweireld all signed up at one point – photos in the shirt and everything- before Ellis pulled the plug on the deal and signed Sebastian Coates on loan. Bizarre. Crazy. Negligent.
The financial issues highlighted in STID have been resolved. Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven have worked their socks off to get this club sustainable, balanced and thriving and we are now, allegedly, one of the best run clubs in England. They deserve more credit than they’ll ever be able to receive. Brilliant, brilliant men. On the field? Yeah, it might need some work, but the attitude of the players is great. They might not have the talent of our players for the Premier League, but they are fully embracing Sunderland and it’s refreshing to see players who’ll sweat blood for that shirt.
5) Who should Lincoln fans be looking out for on Saturday?
I think Aiden McGeady is injured so, on current form, I have to say wee Luke O’Nien. He was signed as a number ten and bizarrely put at right-back for most of his time here, but Ross has given him a chance in his desired role and he’s given us a new dimension. He’s lovable as they come, but he’s also pretty damn good.
Aside from Luke, Chris Maguire always has the ability to change a game with a moment of magic or shithousery! Aside from those two Max Power is right in form and has scored two worldies in the past week.
6) How do you think the game will pan out? Score prediction?
You’re pretty bang out of form and we’re winning quite boringly. 1-0 Sunderland. Will Grigg to come off the bench and snatch a surprise late winner *puts down the Absinthe*.