Kevin Ball must be wondering why the gods seem to be working so much against him by setting such missions impossible. When he was appointed caretaker manager back in 2006, Sunderland's fate was all but sealed, having accumulated just 10 points from 28 games. In his current predicament, he was given the herculean task of inheriting another demoralised squad again on an interim basis with just one point from the first five matches.
The challenge was all the more daunting in the initial match on Sunday against a reborn Liverpool team in the ascendancy. It is true that there was a warm-up in a cup game against Peterborough, which was accomplished with a comfortable win to restore a modicum of confidence. In trying to pick up the shattered pieces, Ball's choice was to use some of the more established players left from the fallout of Paolo Di Canio's short shock-and-awe regime. Was there any choice?
The mess left for the former Sunderland captain was made essentially by the club's hierarchy. Firstly by appointing an Italian maverick, allowing him to lead a revolution with a highly inexperienced director of football and without virtually any financial backing. The overall vision and strategy sounded on the right lines but the transformation was doomed before it started by trying to run it on a shoe-string with a highly combustible head coach that was always going to explode.
Credit must go to Ball for the way his team was up for the Liverpool game and who were arguably the better side until conceding another sloppy goal from a corner, albeit controversially scored in a similar if not quite the same league as Maradona's infamous 'hand of God'. Football is much about confidence and the players could almost be forgiven for thinking luck was again against them. All the hard work and wasted chances proved to be worth nothing when the team conceded a second but more magnificent goal.
The interim head coach, the antithesis to his predecessor on the touch-line, astutely turned it around after the break, giving Emanuele Giaccherini, a freer role he thrived in. It paid dividends when Sunderland pulled one back and was game on with more than half-an-hour to go. But the time was for cool heads rather than the over-exuberance shown. The players lost much of their rhythm, partially due perhaps to Ball's inexperience and the lack of pattern which has already been washed out of the team. Yet in the end, Liverpool has class players and showed what the difference can be.
It was a crucial game and fans can again rightfully claim there were many positives but that the same gods against Ball were also certainly not on the team's side. There is a deep malaise all over the field and problems mount up with no more points on the board. Excuses or hard luck, however legitimate, do not count at the end of the season. Prospects look more the same with Manchester United up next at home, with the interim head coach due for another reprise as Sunderland's directors dither about the future.
With so many problems facing the club, the question is where does it go from here? The revolution set in motion hardly started but is already in flames and the board members must take responsibility. Ellis Short has made so many mistakes, especially in trying to run the club purely as a business as though football only got in the way. There have been many lessons and hopefully he has learnt at least some of them.
Whether Ball should be appointed full time, I am not so sure but doubt if the caretaker role really helps. There is no doubt about his passion and love for the club. I also have reservations about the two other reported front-runners, Guy Poyet and Rene Meulensteen. All three have high-risk factors. My personal preference would be more to go for Gianfranco Zola, who seems to be more of the right type of character and ticks most of the boxes.
Whoever Short chooses, it must be permanent and hopefully will be able to get the best out of the squad of players. But what Sunderland need most of all is continuity and my belief is that the appointment should be made quickly with the proviso to account of the likelihood of even being relegated. The revolution must be resurrected in whatever appropriate form and planned for all eventuality in the longer-term. There may be a high cost but there can be no more patch-ups or quick-fixes. As have been so woefully proven, they just don't work.