If Sunderland’s 3-0 home reverse to Wigan Athletic had come in the Premier League, then serious questions would have been asked about the Black Cats survival chances. As it was, this FA Cup upset was buried beneath greater shocks elsewhere.
It also, possibly, marked the end of Roy Keane’s extended honeymoon period as Sunderland manager. Fans shouting to him that he should be ashamed of his sides performance. And he was. No hiding from the truth.
This next phase of the season promises to be a serious test of Keane’s management capability. As a player he set vigorous standards. And expected all around him to meet those standards. As a manager he is dealing with players of a lesser quality to himself. His challenge is to set standards that improve them, but at the same time, does not destroy their confidence if they fail to instantly meet those standards.
Many great players have failed as managers because they were unable to solve this dilemma. The inability to understand the mind-set of players who were not as talented or as driven as they were.
Right now Sunderland need bucket loads of confidence. They cannot afford to let doubt or uncertainty set in if they are to retain their Premier League status. Keane must ensures he keeps reminding his players of their individual and collective qualities, whilst setting training routines that turn weaknesses into strengths. He must be careful in how he reacts to this home reverse. An over-reaction can negate much of the good work he has done this season.
The standards he set as a player are something for his players to aspire to. But right now Keane has to rebuild the bridge between where his players are, and what he wants. And the bridge must be secure enough for his players to make sure, steady steps in the right direction. Secure enough to build confidence. Secure enough to build trust. And the security of that bridge comes from Keane’s leadership capability. Remember – A good leader creates a working environment in which people want to grow and develop.
How his players respond to this FA Cup defeat will tell us how effective Keane has been in rebuilding this bridge of confidence.