Date: 14th January 2009 at 4:23pm
Written by:

1) So how is the season going, were you shocked at the exit of the bearded one or was it time for him to go?

Very disappointed. Being a Sunderland fans means I always expect the worst, but I honestly thought the pre-season signings had set us up to move on to better things, or at least away from another relegation scrap. I was told from On High when we appointed Keano that the club knew it was taking a massive risk that could blow up in its face. But to be fair, he did his job – or the first two parts of it, from rock bottom to champions in the promotion season , keeping us up last season. This season, he showed how little he appreciates criticism, how unwilling he was to play a settled side and how unattracted he was to a long, difficult haul.

2) What do you think of your new manager, do you think he’ll be able to cope with the pressure of expectations?

As a stopgap, which the 18-month contract suggests, it may be a sound appointment. I’d assume that provided he keeps us up, we’ll get a biggish name in the close season with his retention in some coaching capacity is part of the deal (or he gets a good payoff and, almost certainly, walks into a job somewhere else) . If we slide into a bad run, he’ll quickly know all about pressure. Our lot can be quite unforgiving.

3) You seem to be sorted owner and chairman wise at your club, so with some manager stability, what do you think Sunderland can achieve?

I’d love us to be top six, but have never envied the fans of Brands who expect to win everything in sight and regard each game as just another day at the office. What Peter Reid achieved before he lost it – two seventh top finishes, better still safe by Christmas or thereabouts – was exhilarating while it lasted. Established Premier status would do very nicely and yes, I am a huge fan of all Niall has done for the club. I adored him as a player, and respect his commitment to the club and area.

4) So come on, who is the biggest club of the North. Newcastle, Middlesbrough or Sunderland – and why?

We’ve won more top flight championships – even if they were mostly in the 1890s! And just to prove I live in the past, I think the relationship between Sunderland and Newcastle was cast in stone on Dec
5 1908 – a Newcastle championship season, though not quite their last – when we beat them 9-1 at St James’ Park, jointly the biggest top flight away win. Who are Middlesbrough?

5) We have been linked with Kenwyne Jones, what do you make of him as a player and of the rumour that we’d like to buy him. Is he seriously worth the press rumoured £12million?

He was an excellent acquisition for us, and we need to keep him. If he’s sold and we go down for want of firepower, Niall – despite what I said above – needs to be led to a darkened room and handed a revolver and bottle of whisky (though I suppose that should be the Irish version, whiskey, in his case). But 12m is excessive. He is not yet a finished striker: strong, fast, clever but in my view still developing. In a better team, he could either flourish or seem less special.

6) If you could have a couple of our players, who would they be and why?

Can I have Ashley Young and, if you do take Kenwyne, John Carew? Or was I supposed to ask for Gareth Barry?

7) Who would you send in the opposite direction?

How long have you got? Anyone can have Diouf and Prica, plus a few others among Keano’s more inexplicable signings.

8) Are you surprised to see Villa where they are in the league and do you think we can break the supposed big four monopoly?

Not totally surprised. Villa did well last season, have plenty of money and have shown an ability to keep their nerve against the leading clubs. I’d love to see you replace Chelsea, a club I (maybe irrationally) think of as totally charmless from top to bottom, in the big four, though their demise is not especially likely.

9) What do you think of Villa, Martin O’Neill and claret and blue in general!?

I have a grudge against Martin O’Neill, not for refusing to come to us after a string of meetings led the board to think he was on the verge of signing up, but for a more selfish reason. When he was at Celtic, neither he nor even the club’s press officer bothered so much as to reply to a request for a quick interview for the magazine of the Sunderland supporters’ association London branch (the trigger for the request, of course, being his boyhood love of SAFC). Suppose I should be charitable and accept that the press officer perhaps didn’t even pass the request on. And it was a piddling little magazine, so maybe had little right to expect more. But I rate him very highly as a manager, and I like Villa: a proper club, with good, solid, stick-with-them fans.

10) So come on then, lets be having your prediction?

The way this season has gone, we could win 2-0, dominate but draw or get a thumping. That’s having it every way, so let me be bolder than I feel about it and go for 2-1 to us, Kenwyne’s presence showing he’s going nowhere and accounting for one goal and one assist for Cisse.

With thanks to Salut at www.salutsunderland.com’ and my almost unbelievably brilliant interview with them: Click Here