It never rains, but it sure pours down on David Moyes. Sunderland’s manager spent the last 20 minutes of the game at the London Stadium vociferously imploring his team to hold on for a point that would increase Sunderland’s season total by 50%. He spent the last 20 seconds cursing his lot, a broken man. The suspicion among Sunderland supporters is that they have a broken manager.
When Moyes was appointed, chairman Ellis Short announced that his new manager had been his “number one managerial target for the last five appointments”, which may have raised the eyebrows of Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce. Each of those masterminded their own version of Sunderland’s Great Escape. It’s a film that has had more sequels than Friday the 13th.
There would be a certain irony in Short’s first-choice appointment finally being the one to take Sunderland down to the Championship, but that is the dank reality. Sunderland have two of the three worst points totals in Premier League history and have achieved fewer than 40 points in each of the last four years, yet Moyes has still managed to manufacture their worst-ever start to a Premier League season.
It has been coming, of course. For Sunderland to progress out of their rut they needed a summer of squad improvement and continuity behind the scenes, but the opposite occurred. The initial uncertainty and eventual delay of Allardyce’s appointment by England left Sunderland in a state of enforced inertia, unable to persuade players to join a circus that couldn’t even tell you the name of the ringmaster.
Moyes was finally appointed on July 23, leading to a splurge of signings in the final month of the transfer window. Spending £30m on Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji and Paddy McNair is the punchline to an unfortunate joke, but nobody at the Stadium of Light is laughing.
If that lack of coherent strategy was not bad enough, Sunderland have been hit by an injury crisis that has afflicted some of the club’s best players. Jan Kirchhoff, Jason Denayer, Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson and Fabio Borini have all played half of Sunderland’s league games or fewer, while Adnan Januzaj is also on the injury list.
Yet if these problems lowered the ceiling of expectations upon Moyes’ management, Sunderland’s manager has still managed to fall short. Allardyce succeeded last season by getting the best out of Jermain Defoe, but Moyes has struggled to find a system or style that does anything but starve Defoe of possession. The striker has had 31 touches of the ball in his last two games against lower-half opposition; 16% of those have been to take kick-offs.
Sunderland supporters are already resigned to their fate. Moyes spoke last week about the January transfer window potentially saving his side’s season, but which players would choose Sunderland as their destination? By the time the next transfer window opens, half of the Championship’s 24 club might be more attractive.
The immediate question is whether Moyes will be around to oversee any January investment, with plenty of supporters already ready to see the back of a dismal managerial performance. His league record as a manager since the beginning of 2015/16 reads: P20, W2, D5, L13. Let’s not pretend this is a short-term malaise.
Despite some serious competition, this is as bad as it’s got for Sunderland. The search for a team in England with as few points takes you to Histon of the Southern League Central Division. No professional team in England has scored fewer goals.
It takes something special to underwhelm a support that was already on its knees, but Moyes has pulled it off at Sunderland. Fail to instigate a change quickly and it could be the end of his top-flight career, less than four years after its peak. Was it really only in 2013 that he was appointed manager of the Premier League champions?