Sunderland's Struggles Fuel More Speculation About Sacking of Manager

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham FC and Sunderland AFC at Craven Cottage on November 18, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

It has been exactly one year since Martin O'Neill took over at Sunderland, and he is closer to being sacked every week with the club's poor results. 

The latest failure in Sunderland's season came at the hands of Norwich City on Sunday, with a 2-1 loss at Carrow Road. 

With the loss, the Black Cats dropped down to 17th place in the table, and even the manager himself is resigned to facing the rigors of a relegation battle for the rest of the season. 

At this point last season, O'Neill was brought in to help a struggling club that had just gotten rid of Steve Bruce at the managerial position.

There was plenty of hope on Wearside that O'Neill was the manager that the club were looking for to guide them to further success and have them in place to compete for a position in the Europa League. 

There was a time last season when a Europa League position was a serious goal, until the club faded back into 13th place to end the season after they won one of their last five matches in the 2011-12 campaign. 

Any positive momentum that the club had gained last season was washed away with their poor finish, and that was the form that carried into the new EPL season. 

O'Neill did bring in a proven goal scorer in Steven Fletcher from relegated Wolverhampton, who has been a rare bright spot in a dull attack that includes creative wingers Stephane Sessegnon and Sebastian Larsson. 

Sessegnon and Larsson have been disappointing at best after both wingers had strong seasons in the previous campaign. 

Fletcher opened the season with five goals in the club's first four matches, but since then, the Scottish forward has scored just one goal in nine matches.

This would not be a problem for the Black Cats if their other strong attacking players were in good form, but that is simply not the case at the Stadium of Light at the moment. 

Goals have come few and far between this season for Sunderland with just 13 goals, a number that is matched by Norwich City, and only Aston Villa and QPR have posted a worse prowess in front of goal. 

However, the lack of goals is not the only problem that the Black Cats face, as they also lack the veteran leadership of Wes Brown, who has missed the entire season as he recovers from an MCL injury. 

Brown's return is unknown, just like the captain of the squad, Lee Cattermole, who was removed after just six minutes in the club's November 24th clash with West Brom. His return has not been set yet. 

The lack of leadership in the midfield after the tenacious captain went down with his injury is clear, as the midfield lacked any punch against Norwich on Sunday and in their previous match against Queens Park Rangers, which is a candidate for worst match of the season. 

O'Neill has his back against the wall at this point, and speculation after the West Brom match that he was ready to resign from his position have done nothing to drown out the potential sacking of the Northern Ireland native. 

Adding to the growing list of concerns that O'Neill faces is a grueling fixture list ahead in the month of December that sees the Black Cats play the top four clubs in the EPL table. 

If there is any good news to take out of that difficult stretch of matches, it is that four of their six December matches, including the ones with Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham, will be played at the Stadium of Light.

The other fixtures on the December schedule include trips to Manchester United and Southampton as well as a home match with Reading, a match that was rescheduled from the original date due to a waterlogged pitch at the Stadium of Light on August 25th. 

If the club give O'Neill the whole month to turn things around, he will have to win the two relegation showdowns with Southampton and Reading and take points from one or two of the big clubs at home.

That task may even be too much to ask for the Wearside club, as they have recorded just six points at home in six matches. 

With patience growing short at the Stadium of Light and speculation growing by the week about the future of O'Neill at the club, he may not have time to turn the club around before he becomes the third manager in the EPL to be sacked this season.