If we all know one thing about Sunderland AFC and their end of season run-ins of recent years, it’s that they’re far from dull. If anything, they’re horrendously stressful, although we can often look back on them with fondness after year upon year of ‘Great Escapes’ - the best of which was under Gus in 2013/14.
Eventually our run of scraping survival year after year was going to end and so we find ourselves in the 3rd tier following on from two of the darkest seasons in the club’s history: however in a rather refreshing turn of events we’re challenging at the top end of this table with five games left to play whilst sitting in third place, two points behind second place with a game in hand.
I’ve decided to have a look at the final five games of the previous seasons, to reopen old wounds and give them a stress rating out of five. Five being the ‘I’d rather set fire to my own head than go through that again’ tippity top of the stress Richter scale and 1 being the rather obvious opposite end of the scale, so here goes…
So, the season started with one point from the first eight games, culminating in Paolo Di Canio being sacked after a loss away to West Brom and standing in front of the away fans after the game had finished making some kind of ‘chin-up’ gesture like the absolute fascist loonball he was. Coming into the last five games of the season we’d lost seven of the previous nine, however, in the previous game at the Etihad we came from behind to lead at Man City courtesy of a Connor Wickham double before a Vito Mannone clanger let the win quite literally slip through his fingers.
The result left us six points adrift of safety with five to play and things looking spectacularly bleak with away games at Chelsea and Manchester United to come. What happened over the next four games was unforgettable - ending Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten home record of 77 games as manager of Chelsea with a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge, a thumping 4-0 victory at home over Cardiff City before a cute Seb Larsson half-volley brought us three points with a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. Somehow, we were now three points from safety and another classy display at home to West Brom and a 2-0 victory somehow secured our survival with a game to play (a 3-1 loss at home to Swansea, so we aren’t going to talk about it). The best way to sum up this particular seasons run-in was the quote from Gus Poyet: ‘I don’t want another 7 months like this. I’m strong but I don’t want to have a heart attack’
Stress Rating: 5 Purely based on the run-in we’d been on and the games we had to come. However, I was tempted to lower this because of seeing us win at Stamford Bridge, rather than set fire to my own head.
This was the year we had Big Sam at the helm before all that European Championship/Pints of wine fiasco. Yet again, it was another season with a terrible start, with the lads emerging winless from the first ten games of the season before the smelly lot up the road helped us out with three points in late October for the second time in three seasons. It wasn’t quite as bad as the 13/14 season, being that we rolled into the last five games on the back of a 3-0 away at relegation rivals Norwich. The reason we were feeling a little more relaxed about the season in question was because of the recruitment in January. Big Sam brought in Lamine Kone, Whabi Khazri and Jan Kirchoff, who after a pretty shaky debut at centre-half from the subs bench away at Spurs, was moved forward into midfield and became possibly the greatest midfielder who has ever lived in the entire galaxy. We followed up on the win at Norwich with two draws on the bounce against Arsenal at home and Stoke away, courtesy of a nerveless stoppage time penalty from Jermain Defoe. three games to go, Chelsea and Everton at home before a trip down to Watford to close out the season. The atmosphere in those two home games will live long in the memory, when Defoe hit the winner to make it 3-2 the noise in the SoL was not of this earth, and something that had to be seen to be believed. Three points in that game led us on the Everton game where three points would all but guarantee our safety and send those mingers up the road down to the second tier. A double from Lamine Kone, including one that can only be described as an absolute blammer that, if not for the net being in the way, would have caused extensive structural damage to The Roker End behind the goal. Safe as houses, like it was ever in doubt - a 2-2 draw away at Watford followed where Big Sam played a fair few young’uns and we could have a bit of a party in the away end knowing we had another season of top-flight football to look forward to (or not, but more on that next).
Stress rating: 2 purely based on the fact we’d become solid defensively under Allardyce and Defoe was just mint.
We started the season with a loss away at Man City, and then David Moyes gave us all the lift we were hoping for by proclaiming our players weren’t very good and we were destined for a relegation battle. We lost eight of our first ten games before finally winning away at Bournemouth in November. That’s pretty much as good as it got, granted we won away at Palace 4-0 but even then we were totally abject for the rest of the season.
We rocked into our final five games on the back on two points from a possible 27 and a defeat at home to Bournemouth would have sent us down, however for the purposes of looking at the positives in this, we did actually come into the final six games of the season unbeaten in one. We all know how that story ends, a 1-0 loss and our fate was sealed. Surprisingly enough we actually won the next game away at Hull, somewhat putting the ghost of that weakened team in the FA Cup to bed, before reverting to type and being totally shite for the rest of the season. Javi Manquillo scored our last goal in the top fight, how depressing, after only three minutes at The Bridge, but that only vexed Chelsea, who hit 5. Thankfully Moyes was gone within hours of the game finishing and we could look forward to a rebuilding job in the Championship.
Stress Rating: 200. This is based on the fact that it was frustrating that we stuck with Moyes despite him quite clearly being clueless and a detriment to team spirit.
This was the year to start rebuilding, an opportunity to blood some of the young lads, get a bit of team spirit back and win a fair few games to get something close to a feel-good factor about the place. We actually managed a win in the opening month of the season and emerged from the first three games of the season without tasting defeat. However, we didn’t win again until November and by then we’d already replaced Simon Grayson with Chris Coleman as gaffer. One of the most Sunderland things about this season was the away game at Derby, which we won 4-1 on a Friday night. With five minutes to go until half time, we were 2-0 up and Derby were still 6/4 favourites to win - that’s how bad we were. Things didn’t really get any better and coming into the run in, we were once again in serious danger of suffering back-to-back relegations and drop into the third tier for only the second time in the club’s history. Once again, we all know how this story ends and a Darren Bent goal for Burton Albion sent us plummeting into League One. Coleman was sacked, Ellis Short sold up, cleared the club of all debts and Methven, Sartori and Donald rolled into town as the men to help get us back where we belong. We ended the season with Robbie Stockdale in temporary charge we actually beat the champions Wolves 3-0 at home to somehow end the season, rather hilariously as the only team that Wolves failed to beat or score against. Sunderland, eh?
Stress rating: 5 because it was shite.