If new Sunderland boss Gus Poyet did not know quite how dire the situation was at the Stadium of Light prior to his appointment, his first match in charge quickly changed that.
A 4-0 capitulation against Swansea City dispelled the myth that a new manager automatically brings a quick – if sometimes brief – change of fortune.
If anything, the Black Cats played worse in Poyet’s first game than they had in Paolo Di Canio’s last. And now the former Brighton boss is facing a match that defined his predecessor’s early reign.
Whatever you think of Di Canio’s Sunderland tenure, the 3-0 victory against Newcastle United back in April did so much more than secure bragging rights. It made a statement that allowed the relegation-threatened club to ultimately survive, on a day when Di Canio’s management style was as clear as ever – a bombastic, 12th-man, we’re-all-in-this-together approach that worked…for a time.
And now Poyet attempts to add to Sunderland’s solitary point as he welcomes the club’s fiercest rivals to town, knowing the Magpies will be as desperate for revenge as his own team is for a victory.
As a player, Poyet almost invariably scored against Newcastle United, sometimes robbing them of three points and other times of so much more than that; as with the time he scored a brace for Chelsea in a FA Cup semi-final.
But today he will attempt to influence the match from the touchline, knowing another loss – even this early in the season – will make it increasingly hard to alter Sunderland’s fate from that of relegation fodder.
Poyet has done it before, twice in fact, inspiring Brighton to cup shocks over the Magpies in the last two seasons. Again he will be the underdog, and he will hope to make it a hat-trick of successes in that role.
He has, for the most part, inherited a team constructed by a man no longer there – a man entrusted to bring in new faces but ultimately not trusted to turn the parts in to a whole.
Now Poyet must turn them into a team, first to beat their local rivals, and then to start beating plenty of others, too.
image: © Daniel Coomber