Born on this day is former Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, who famously took Sunderland to the League Cup final as well as the ‘Great Escape’.
Poyet first came to England in his playing days, signing for Chelsea in 1997. One of his most famous goals for the Blues was against his future club, Sunderland, where he scored an audacious flying scissor-kick volley.
The Uruguayan scored an impressive 49 goals in 145 games in all competitions for Chelsea, becoming surplus to requirements in 2000 when new manager Claudio Ranieri decided to reduce the average age of the squad. He remained in London, signing for Chelsea’s rivals Spurs. However, his time at White Hart Lane was blighted by injuries and Poyet left in 2004.
As a manager, Gus was appointed Brighton manager in 2009 after stints elsewhere as assistant manager. He was able to instil his philosophy with the Seagulls; a slow, patient build-up with lots of possession. When Poyet took over, Brighton were fighting relegation from League One. They finished 13th, and went on to win the league the following season.
In 2013, Brighton got to the Championship play-off semi-finals, but lost to Crystal Palace over two legs. The club decided to change direction, and Poyet left the club. In October 2013, after Paolo Di Canio’s disastrous start to the season, Poyet was announced as Sunderland’s new manager. He was the first Uruguayan manager in the Premier League.
In his first match in charge, Poyet got off to a disappointing start. We were slaughtered 4-0 by Swansea City, with Phil Bardsley and Steven Fletcher both scoring own goals in the game. The defeat meant Sunderland had just one points from their opening eight games, which was their worst ever start to a season.
After the loss in Wales, confidence was at an all-time low going into the first Derby of the season. However, in Poyet’s second game in charge Fabio Borini fired Sunderland to a 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light. It was a sign of things to come, as just a few weeks later we beat Manchester City thanks to a Phil Bardsley goal. Bardsley had been brought in from the cold by Gus Poyet after being exiled by Di Canio.
Poyet’s next big win came in the League Cup quarter-finals, when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came to the Stadium of Light. The Blues were of course huge favourites going into the game. However, a late Fabio Borini goal made the game 1-1, and took it to extra time. In the 118th minute, with the game looking set to go to penalties, Ki Sung-Yueng found the net and the Stadium of Light erupted. Sunderland were in the semi-finals.
The cup success wasn’t exactly translated into the Premier League. In the next three games, Sunderland faced two huge relegation rivals in Cardiff and Norwich. However, they were only able to pick up draws against both sides. The improvement in the team was clear to see though, and fans began to have a glimmer of hope.
Poyet led the team to victory in the home leg of the semi-final, and we all know what happened at Old Trafford! Vito Mannone was the hero, and Poyet took Sunderland to Wembley in his first season in charge. The win against United inspired some much-needed confidence in the side, who then went on to comfortably beat Newcastle 3-0 away from home. A certain Jack Colback grabbed the third goal, and wheeled off in celebration.
In March, the League Cup final was played against Man City, who were overwhelming favourites. Despite this, Borini got in behind City’s defence early on and fired his shot past the helpless Pantilimon and into the bottom corner. The lads went into the break 1-0 up, and in all honesty it could have been more! In the second half, City’s quality was too much and Sunderland’s resolute defence finally caved. Yaya Toure curled a worldie into Mannone’s top right corner, with the Italian standing no chance. Almost immediately from kick-off, Samir Nasri made it 2-1 and Sunderland’s cup hopes were dashed. An injury-time goal from Jesus Navas sealed City’s win.
The final had clearly taken its toll on Sunderland, whose form declined drastically. We picked up just one point from the next seven games, including a 5-1 hammering at Spurs where Poyet claimed we needed a ‘miracle’ to stay up. After a 1-0 home defeat to Everton, the lads went away to Man City and drew 2-2. Although it was probably a decent point, it stung because we were 2-1 up until late on, when Nasri’s strike slipped through the grasp of Mannone.
If one positive came out of Sunderland’s poor form, it was the recalling of Connor Wickham from his loan spell at Leeds. Wickham scored a brace in the City game, and was instrumental in our great escape.
We went to Stamford Bridge, where Jose Mourinho had an unbeaten record. We pulled off a fantastic win through a calm Borini penalty, and took one step closer to survival. It was the start of four wins in a row, including a win at Old Trafford, and a 2-0 win at home to West Brom which confirmed our survival.
The following season, Poyet became increasingly frustrated at Sunderland and was sacked in March, with the club 17th and just one point above the relegation zone. After his time on Wearside, Poyet has managed the likes of Real Betis and Bordeaux among others.