When Martin O’Neill returns to the only club that has truly blotted his copy book as manager on Saturday, is he actually in the process of doing the worst job of his entire career?
O’Neill takes his struggling Sunderland to team to face Norwich City at Carrow Road with questions galore about what is going on at the Stadium of Light.
Heralded as a saviour when taking over from Steve Bruce almost a year ago, things have gone badly wrong for the former Aston Villa boss and he appears at a loss as to how to repair a desperate situation.
O’Neill left Norwich after just weeks in charge following a falling out with the Carrow Road board and that remains the only job he has held where there wasn’t a semblance of triumph.
With Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa, O’Neill brought about varying degrees of success, although I have always maintained, often in the face of some derision, that he has been an overrated manager.
Perhaps my argument doesn’t seem so far-fetched now, because whatever way you look at it, the Northern Irishman is woefully under-performing on Wearside.
Just two wins in the last 21 Premier League games is an awful record and both of those victories (against Wigan Athletic and Fulham) have come against teams reduced to ten men when the match was goalless.
More worryingly, there is absolutely no encouragement to be taken from Sunderland’s performances. The majority of those displays have been dour, uninspiring affairs and there has been a desperate lack of creativity, spark or dynamism, as a record of just 12 goals in 13 games proves.
Things are so bad that when rumours circulated last weekend on Twitter in the aftermath of the 4-2 home defeat to West Brom that O’Neill had resigned, it did not seem implausible in the slightest.
If that was meant to bring about a better performance, the 0-0 draw at home to Queens Park Rangers was utterly abject and Sunderland are just one point above the relegation zone going into December.
It must be said that Bruce was hounded out for a similar slump in his side’s fortunes and the only thing that can be keeping O’Neill in a job is his reputation, because it certainly isn’t what’s happening on the pitch.
And I don’t think things will get any better when he goes to Norwich. The Black Cats are 13/5 to win and there’s no way on earth you should be taking that, nor the draw at 23/10 – it has to be the 21/20 on the Canaries all day long.
Chris Hughton has overseen an impressive turnaround for Norwich over the last few weeks. Second-season syndrome looked as though it was going to doom the Canaries to relegation but after a poor start, Hughton has got his side going.
Some impressive tactical tweaks mean that Norwich are now much harder to beat and their recent run has been very impressive. City are now eight games unbeaten in all competitions, seven of which have come in the Premier League, and have lifted themselves into mid-table safety on 16 points.
It is their previously porous defence that has been the catalyst. Norwich have conceded just four goals in that eight-game sequence, keeping four clean sheets, and they now look a much more organised and astute team than they were earlier in the season, when they conceded five to Fulham and Liverpool and four to Chelsea.
And in their current form, Norwich can see off a shot-shy Sunderland team with something to spare. It has to be said that Norwich don’t score too many themselves – they only have 11 – but one could well be enough.
So a narrow home win is the play and if you want more value, then the 17/10 on a Norwich victory with under 3.5 goals is the bet.