We had the pleasure of speaking with a fellow SB Nation Soccer blog, Roker Report, ahead of today's game between Everton and Sunderland. Michael Graham has been here before and has done well to not gloat as the Black Cats have had the better of the recent fixtures between the two sides.
RBM - Finding a long-term manager has been a challenge for Sunderland lately. Is Sam Allardyce that person? How do you feel about Dick Advocaat choosing to stay another season?
RR - I was initially very positive about Advocaat returning but as soon as his heart wasn't in it I think it was best that he did what he did and walked away. I think he either overestimated himself or underestimated the Premier League, or both, because he seemed to have this idea that he could send Sunderland out to go toe-to-toe with teams in this division and everything would be okay.
To be fair to him, that is how it has been for him his whole career, and I don't mean to put down the Sunderland squad. It's a capable squad. Set it up right, and it will compete. In that regard it is no different to any number of teams in the Premier League, but it's not going to wing-it on its quality alone and that is what he seemed to expect it to.
Is Sam Allardyce the right man? I've been here so many times before it's tough to make predictions. I hope so.
RBM - 'Big Sam' has been known for a certain style of football - do fans care, or is surviving relegation the highest priority and everything else comes later?
RR - Well, I can only really speak for myself here rather than fans in general, but I believe style is a luxury we are some way away from being able to afford. It's all about substance for now.
It's an incredible thing to say about a club who has been in the Premier League for nearly an unbroken decade now, but we almost have to swallow our pride and treat ourselves as a newly promoted team who need get firmly established in mid-table before kicking on.
Allardyce has a track record better than just about anyone of that, so we just have to take what comes with him. I've said to a few people since he was appointed that, although you may not back Sunderland to stay up, you'd definitely back Allardyce to.
RBM - How did Sunderland do in the summer transfer market? Have those players all settled in well? What do you see as weaknesses that will need to be addressed in January?
RR - It was actually, I think, one of the best summer windows we've had for a very long time. Jeremain Lens, Fabio Borini and Yann M'Vila were genuine progressive signings, and DeAndre Yedlin has made a very positive impression too.
We certainly need a big powerful striker though. We missed out there. Steven Fletcher has picked up his game of late, so maybe it's not as urgent as it looked like being, but it's something Allardyce will want to address as soon as possible. I don't think he can get enough target men in one of his squads generally, to be fair.
RBM - How about the youth side, are there any players you see that can break into the senior squad and challenge for starting spots?
RR - The Under-21 side is top of the Premier League, so there is a real optimism about it. Their coach, Robbie Stockdale, has just been promoted to first team duty too, so there is some real knowledge of the youth players on the first team coaching staff too.
Duncan Watmore remains the big hope. He has scored a couple goals from the bench already this season and was the player of the tournament (not just for England but the whole thing) in the under-20s European Championships last summer. He is certainly knocking on the door.
RBM - On paper, the Black Cats look a decent side with players who have proved themselves in the Premier League previously. The results however are not showing it, where is the disconnect?
RR - As I mentioned previously really, Advocaat's set-up wasn't all that pragmatic and it largely accounts for the poor start in my opinion. There just wasn't enough care given to the nitty-gritty defensive stuff.
Basically, if this Sunderland team can stay in games, it has enough about it to win points. It just hasn't stayed in games often enough to give themselves a chance.
RBM - Sunderland have struggled away this season, but will be boosted by their sixth straight win over derby rivals Newcastle United. How do you see this weekend shaking out?
RR - It's a tough one to predict. I never find Everton the easiest team to judge at the best of time, so throw in the near total randomness of Sunderland too and anything could happen. I'd like to think Sunderland can frustrate and stay in the game long enough to take advantage of a few tired legs late in the game after the extra time you guys had in the League Cup, but things are rarely that simple.
I'll predict the best I dare hope for - a scrappy 1-1 draw.
Thanks go out to Michael again, and here's hoping for a good game!