For a while, in the Premier League Sunderland’s season’s follow a familiar pattern. Terrible football from August-end of March, look destined for relegation and then miraculously survive by the skin of our teeth by turning into Real Madrid in April. But which one was the greatest the best?
Certainly one of Sunderland’s most dramatic and surprising Premier league seasons in our history. In March, sitting one point above the relegation zone, Martin O’Neill was sacked which paved the way for the controversial appointment of Paolo Di Canio. The arrival of the Italian caused quite the stir amongst the fans and the media but in the end Di Canio rescued Sunderland from certain relegation. O’Neill’s Sunderland squad had ran out of ideas and defeat after defeat saw us quickly slipping down the table towards the relegation zone. The squad had stopped playing for their manager and had seemingly given up trying. Di Canio came in and gave them the reality check they needed. Motivating the squad like no Sunderland manager I’ve seen before (for a short time anyway). In his second game in charge, Di Canio changed the whole outlook of the season. A 3-0 win away to Newcastle got all the fans on their feet, gave everyone hope and most importantly changed the mentality of the whole squad. The following week a long overdue home win against Everton had over 40,000 people singing his name. This turned out to be Di Canio’s last win for the Black Cats. After a shocking 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa, two draws against Stoke and Southampton were enough to keep us up as we limped over the line, finishing 17th, just three points above relegated Wigan.
The 2013-14 season was a remarkable one. It had it all. Player revolts, manager sackings, derby wins, miracle cup runs and of course, a great escape. Possibly the greatest. Following the highs of Wembley, reality hit hard for Sunderland. With six games left to play, Gus Poyet admitted Sunderland needed a miracle, and that’s exactly what they got. After a 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light to Everton, marking five losses in a row, something changed. With two impossible fixtures away to Manchester City and Chelsea next up, many accepted relegation. However this provided the springboard for the miracle. After going 1-0 down after two minutes it looked like typical Sunderland, but two goals in 10 minutes from Connor Whickham gave Sunderland a shock lead. If it wasn’t for a last minute Vito Mannone howler Sunderland would have had the win, but a draw was a starting point. Next up truly was a miracle victory. A 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge ending Jose Mourniho’s impressive record of not losing at home, all thanks to a Fabio Borini penalty. Suddenly the miracle was becoming real. Sunderland had the momentum and everyone knew it. Our fate was in our own hands and a 4-0 win against Cardiff sent the Stadium of Light into a party atmosphere. Survival was getting closer and next up was a valuable Manchester United with a caretaker Ryan Giggs in charge. The theatre of dreams turned into a nightmare for Giggs as Poyet’s men got another shock victory thanks to a Seb Larsson goal. Thanks to these heroics and shock victories, all Sunderland had to do get a poin at home to West Brom to ensure the great escape. Which they did with a 2-0 win thanks to Jack Colback and Fabio Borini. The Stadium of Light witnessed a miracle play out and everyone there knew it. As a memorable banner said the 2013/14 checklist was to beat the mags, tick, go to Wembley, tick, and perform a miracle, tick.
The 2014-15 season was a strange one. It saw Gus Poyet turn on the fans, blaming them for losses and poor performances and the fans turn on Poyet. The man who led us to Wembley was gone and his replacement… Dick Advocaat. Who saw that one coming? The Dutchman joined in March with Sunderland just one point above the relegation zone. It looked like the 67 year old needed to produce a great escape, and so he did. After a loss in his first game, Advocaat’s Sunderland hosted Newcastle at the Stadium of Light and thanks to a stunning Jermain Defoe volley, began their charge to survival. The week following the derby saw a thrashing at home to Crystal Palace, nullifying the effect of the win against the mags. However, the next five games saw Advocaat prove himself. Suddenly Sunderland became tough to beat. John O’shea and Sebastian Coates became rocks at the back. After draws against Stoke and Leicester and wins against Southampton and Everton, Advocaat headed to the Emirates to face Arsenal needing only a point to survive. After a nail biting 90 minutes Sunderland held on for a 0-0 doing exactly was needed to confirm survival. In a rare sight in football, the little general shed a tear on the pitch, and suddenly Mrs Advocaat was due a bouquet of flowers.
In October 2015 Sam Allardyce replaced Advocaat with Sunderland siting bottom of the Premier League. A lot of times during this season it looked like this would be the year relegation finally hit. In December the Black Cats lost five games in a row and looked hopeless. Between January to the end of February wins were few and far between. However thanks to the work of Allardyce, creating a solid defence with Lamine Kone and Younes Kabul and the goals of Jermain Defoe Sunderland went from March to the end of the season only losing one game. Picking up impressive wins along the way. By the 11th may Sunderland faced Everton at home and a win would seal the survival. A packed Stadium of Light saw a memorable 3-0 victory. Fans sung their hearts out and formed conga lines, Allardyce danced on the pitch and the players were heroes. Everything was right as Sunderland confirmed they would be in the Premier League for another season. Everything was right, for the time being.
But which one is the greatest?
Out of all these great escapes, one stands out against all the rest. The 2013-14 season is one than can be talked about for years to come. From the trip to Wembley to the miracle of all miracles Gus Poyet’s greatest escape should be remembered by teams in similar situations to remind them, it is possible. The run Sunderland went on beating the teams they did is the reason why this should be remembered. Thank to Poyet 2013-14 wasn’t just a great escape or a miracle, it was the greatest escape in Premier League history.