What constitutes an apprenticeship in football management? Is it a game or two in charge in a temporary capacity, maybe three? Is that all, and if so, does that mean Ricky Sbragia deserves to be named the next manager of Sunderland, having overseen two four-goal wins and one defeat – at Old Trafford – in his three games picking the team? What happens if the fourth, against Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day is lost? Would that make Sbragia less of a managerial prospect than he looked at Hull on Saturday night?
Or are the 21 years spent coaching at various levels, from York City to Manchester United, with Bolton and Sunderland in between, the real Sbragia apprenticeship? If so, why has the 52-year-old Scot not been given a Premier League job before? That last question may be answered by Sbragia's reticence. Publicly at least, he is showing a politician's willingness to spend more time with his family.
But Sbragia is making it enjoyably complicated for the club's chairman, Niall Quinn. There are others in the frame, but from the left of the picture Sbragia has moved to its centre. The club has its smile back and the players are enthused. However, it will not always be shiny and happy. A couple of defeats and it might be asked if this upturn is about Keane's absence as much as Sbragia's presence. The Sunderland players shouting "Give him the job" as Sbragia was interviewed on Match of the Day were still joyous about a scoreline heavier than the performance warranted. Sunderland played some excellent composed football – as seen in Steed Malbranque's opener at the end of a six-man move – but after Nicky Barmby's 19th-minute equaliser, it was almost all Hull until half-time.
Arguably Sbragia impressed most then because Sunderland came out the more determined side and, though the second goal from Kieran Richardson had a lot of luck, a 2-1 win would have been merited on the Wearsiders' second half. Hull's Sam Ricketts was then dismissed and Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cissé added late emphasis with a goal each. "A poor day at the office," Phil Brown called it. Sbragia, who credited the sports psychologist Bill Beswick with an inspirational pre-match speech, said: "In general terms it is working."
Goals: Malbranque (10) 0-1; Barmby (19) 1-1; Zayatte og (78) 1-2; Jones (84) 1-3; Cissé (90) 1-4.
Hull City (4-1-3-2) Myhill; Mendy, Turner, Zayatte, Ricketts; Ashbee; Garcia (Cousin, 57) Boateng, Barmby (Giannakopoulos, 68); Geovanni, King. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Marney, Doyle, Halmosi, Windass.
Sunderland (4-1-3-2) Fulop; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins; Tainio (Leadbitter, 79); Malbranque, Richardson (Edwards, 89), Reid (Whitehead, 75); Cissé, Jones. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Yorke, Murphy, Healy.
Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).
Booked: Hull Boateng, Ricketts, King; Sunderland Richardson.
Sent off: Hull Ricketts (81).
Man of match: Malbranque.
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