Football Season Review

№14: Sunderland

Sunderland can look back on a tumultuous, draining and ultimately successful season as they once again managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. Paulo di Canio managed to keep them up last year and started the season with expectations of good things after some impressive transfer coups, most notably that of Emanuel Giaccherrini from Juventus. Yet, the fiery manager was always going to get into arguments with his players from the start and that had a very bad impact on the overall morale of the squad. The Black Cats lost four and drew one of the first five games of the season and a 3:0 loss at the hands of West Brom in late September was enough to get Di Canio the sack. The main reason for that was that his relationship with the players became so toxic that any future together seemed untenable. The Wearsiders lost their next three games after him as well and were rooted at the foot of the table with things looking glum. Gustavo Poyet was given the unenviable task of getting the team out of a hole and wins over Newcastle and Manchester City in his first two home games in charge quickly endeared him to the locals. He was focusing on more refined approach but the early good start under him soon started to evaporate as the team went six games without a win and still stuck at the bottom by Christmas. Yet, a brilliantly defiant 1:0 win at a superb Everton side on Boxing Day showed that there was plenty of character and quality in this side. The team was also enjoying a good run in the League Cup and set up a semi-final with Manchester United after seeing off Chelsea as well. The two legs against the Red Devils were very dramatic and were eventually settled by penalties with Sunderland triumphing, getting into the final against Manchester City. These good results were followed by an upturn in league form as well and a brilliant 3:0 win at Newcastle at the start of February moved them well clear of the drop zone. But that was a season of unexpected twists and turns for the Black Cats and they would go on a very poor run of form in the next couple of months. They lost 3:1 to City in the League Cup final, despite playing very well overall, but the performances in the league were wretched and they went on a run of one point gained in eight games. Losses to Tottenham and West Ham in in early April left them in the mire and the manager all but accepted that relegation was certain. But then the unthinkable happened and the Black Cats experienced the sort of revival that even Lazarus would envy. They secured a superb point at Manchester City and then went on to beat Chelsea at their own ground within a few days. Suddenly, they were almost within touching distance of safety and three more wins in the next three games secured them their top-flight status for the next season. The incorporation of Connor Wickham up front in the final couple of months of the season was a major factor in this superb turnaround but the whole team seemed to start believing in themselves and playing as well as they can. They certainly deserved to stay up in the basis of these heroics and the future looks much brighter with a talented and motivated coach like Poyet in charge.

Player of the Season: Fabio Borini