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Friday, Sept. 27, 2002

PREMIER REPORT

Outlook grim for Sunderland's Reid


LONDON -- If the grapevine is to be believed, Sunderland manager Peter Reid will be fired should his team lose to Aston Villa on Saturday, making the former England midfielder the ignominious winner of the Premiership sack race.

Christopher Davies

Someone had to be first to go and Reid has been the short-odds favorite. Perhaps ominously, earlier this week the bookmakers stopped taking bets on Reid's departure.

While Sunderland chairman Bob Murray has been loyal to his manager in the wake of a run of poor results, some feel his silence has been deafening since last Saturday's 2-0 defeat by rival Newcastle United, which won not only three points but also local bragging rights.

A spokesman for Murray said that the chairman did not wish to say anything "because it could be misinterpreted." Make of that what you wish.

Unless Sunderland embarks on a winning run, which seems as likely as snow in the Sahara, Reid's days appear numbered. Murray's refusal to press the panic button after a few bad results is admirable but the chairman cannot ignore the growing unrest among Sunderland supporters and headlines such as "Reid on the brink" with a list of possible successors.

It is difficult to turn the views of supporters -- any supporters -- around. If they decide a manager has to go or a player is useless then that is that. The only person they find it hard to dislodge is the chairman (Aston Villa followers have been trying to get Doug Ellis to leave for years) because he invariably owns the club.

On a preseason tour, one Sunderland follower threw a pint of beer in Reid's face. The photograph was splashed over the back of most tabloids though this may say more about the newspaper industry than Reid.

What a coincidence that someone with a camera just happened to be on hand when the incident happened. In reality, it was a setup with two fans aware of the tabloid shilling and it was a nice little earner for the beer-thrower and his photographer chum who would be able to afford a few bottles of bubbly on the proceeds.

Reid has maintained he will not resign and after protecting his players, who did not deserve it, the manager turned on them after the defeat at Newcastle, accusing them of giving less than 100 percent.

Incredible as it may seem, it is becoming an increasing problem for managers to motivate young players who are already millionaires.

The Sunderland captain, Michael Gray, agreed the players deserved a rollicking. He said: "It's not the manager who should come under fire, it's the players. No one likes losing derby games but you are not going to win them without passion and heart."

It was all so different a couple of years ago. Reid has almost become a victim of his own success, the over-achievements of Sunderland raising expectations to unreasonable levels, though when you are one of the top five supported clubs in the country hopes will always be high.

Appointed seven years ago, Reid was a hero on Wearside after he led a team of first-division strugglers to two successive seventh-place finishes in the Premiership.

That was then. Last season Sunderland escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth and despite spending $35 million on new players over the past 12 months it is in the drop zone with the first division very much in its sights. Sunderland has won just four matches in 2002. It has scored two goals in the last 630 minutes of football and so it is understandable that fans who have seen only two home wins in almost nine months are angry.

Reid has made several poor forays into the transfer market which have not helped his cause.

Nicolas Medina arrived for $5.5 million from Argentina's Boca Juniors in 2001 and has yet to play for Sunderland. Emerson Thome cost $6.5 million from Chelsea but the injury-hit Brazilian has clocked up only 12 games in the past 13 months. Lilian Laslandes, acquired for $5 million from Bordeaux, has been loaned out.

Whichever 11 players Reid picks for Saturday's game against Aston Villa owe their manager, the club and the fans a rousing performance in the wake of the weak display at Newcastle.

The atmosphere at the Stadium of Light is likely to be dark and poisonous. Even at Newcastle, the Sunderland supporters refused to turn on the players. For most of them the only villain is Reid.

The sword hangs over the Sunderland manager by a slender thread because anything other than victory against Villa will see unprecedented anti-Reid protests which Murray will find hard to ignore.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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