Sutton one year on: ‘I am harsh but I’m realistic in what I think’

When Sutton and his assistant Ian Pearce arrived at Sincil Bank the main purpose was to keep Lincoln City Football Club in the Football League.
Ever since the former Celtic star joined City he has shown an honest face, owning up to wrong tactical decisions and singling out players who have given a poor performance in a match.

Sutton realises that this current season is about progress and building on some of the foundations that were laid over the last campaign. He said: “It’s early days this season. Last season it was about keeping us in the division. I thought coming in to what we had it was always going to be a difficult task, but we did that.

Chris Sutton has taken his first year in management in his stride, despite some tough times. Photo: Tom Farmery
“This season it’s about progressing from that really — that’s the aim. We’ve had a tricky start in terms of the fixture list. The fixtures have been tough, but having said that I think at the moment we’re probably about right where we are in terms of our performance.”

Fans can always be quick to exaggerate negative issues, like not achieving instant success or continuous poor performances.

However, progress is sometimes a gradual process and can only be monitored after a certain amount of time. This is something Sutton believes to be the case at Sincil Bank.

“You can look at it in different ways. Last season the only thing on our minds was staying in the division and I know you win a couple of games – and we had a spell when we won three games on the trot — and you think there’s going to be a formality.

“Sport has proven over the years that it’s never that easy. Football really is like most sports – if you’ve got better players you win more games, and at this level it’s tough for a lot of clubs. In terms of players I feel we’ve got some assets now, but we need – in terms of progression of people’s perception – to play some good stuff, to be more dominant in games, and to finish higher up the table,” Sutton said.

Before joining Lincoln City, Sutton had applied for the manager’s job at Inverness Caledonian Thistle in January 2009. He was unsuccessful with that venture, but successful with the Lincoln post and with over a year in management the 37-year-old has a chance to analyse what it’s like to be a football manager.

“The most challenging aspect is being successful. It’s not easy, but there’s a lot of other managers at this level, and in the Conference and even in League One, where there’s one team who can finish top of the table and one team who can finish bottom and everybody else will come somewhere in between.

“You’re governed by budgets,  you’re even governed by the location. Lincoln, where it is, there are a lot of issues that we don’t pay wages which other clubs do in the division, so therefore how are you going to attract somebody here? I know throughout the summer everybody was saying we need a striker – well so does everybody.

“”When Davide [Somma] came in, did we honestly expect him to do so well? No we didn’t. But I think we suited each other. I helped him and certainly Davide’s a smart guy he has the capacity to take things on board. Before he came here he hadn’t actually scored goals in his career and now you can see he’s playing with a lot of confidence and that should be the aim for the rest of the players, not just at Lincoln, but with other players at this level.”

The pure nature and attitude of Sutton is an aspect of him that is evident in the training sessions, the stern looks he gives from the sidelines, and the bitter tongue in the dressing room is all focused at one thing – bettering Lincoln City Football Club.

“We want to be in control of what we do by performing on the pitch. I am harsh but I’m realistic in what I think. There’s a lot of waffle in football, a lot of managers who paint a completely different picture to how it is.

 “I think you get what you deserve in the main out of games and there is certainly an element of luck, but ultimately you’ve got to convert your chances and keep them out the other end.”

Sutton says he is currently only thinking about this season. He remains optimistic that the team will improve on last season, but recognises that with a similar financial budget he has work to do.

“We need to get players in and we need to get better players [like] we had last season. You get them off the free list so with the greatest respect to them, they’re free for a reason. Nobody’s snapping them up. In that respect you could deem that as a bit of a lottery, but it’s the same for a lot of clubs.

“But then you’re thinking how are you going to move from struggling and staving off relegation to promotion? And with the best will in the world you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out it’s going to be difficult. But that’s what we all aspire to and that’s why time is important, but I’m impatient,”  Sutton said frankly.

As a player Sutton was in a position to change things when it mattered on the pitch and he admits that as a manager it is frustrating that all you can do is pick the team, and you can’t immediately alter a performance.

He said: “When you witness a poor performance, okay it’s frustrating, but the worst part of it is knowing that you can’t physically do anything about it.

“There’s nothing like playing, and when you play you feel that you can change things, you can have an effect and there are instances that happen in games where I’d like to think I’d do things differently – but that’s natural. All managers will often think ‘why’s he done that?’ You’ll often see an opportunity, particularly in forward areas and what have you. But that’s why they’re at this level.”

Sutton understands that when the late Keith Alexander was manager of Lincoln City, there were the five consecutive play-offs – but even then supporters were still disgruntled that City never made the next step.

The Imps boss knows that this level of expectation is something that is found at football clubs all over the country and is a factor he must live with.
“There’s a reason why those five times that Lincoln didn’t get promoted, but that was successful and I bet if you asked the supporters who were there then they would say it was a fantastic time and people take things for granted.

“They pay their money and the nature of the game means that people want success and nobody wants it more than myself and the players. Historically Lincoln is a club that hasn’t done well and there are reasons for that, but basically I’m in a position where I’ve got to do something that nobody’s ever done before.

“There are limits on things, but patience is important to a level. Having said that, football is about results and that is the reality. Like any business plan there has to be a method and the problem with football is, rightly or wrongly, managers don’t get time and what have you – but that’s all to do with expectation levels.

“The expectation levels of fans in the main are different to what the expectations are of the board. Every year fans will at the start of the season will think we can go up automatically, but there’s no actual logic to how that’s going to happen, bearing in mind we pay less wages than some other clubs. From my position all I want to see is us progress and I want to see us compete.”

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