To say this season has been an eventful one for Sunderland is a massive understatement; there have been major highs and a lot of lows, but this season will stay in the memory of not just Sunderland fans but fans of the Premier League.
The season all started off with Paolo Di Canio and the Italian regime which included director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni.
Di Canio and his team brought in thirteen new players’ which included Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini and Italain International Emanuele Giaccherini. With a massive influx of players who were relatively unknown by a lot of the public, time would tell whether they would settle quickly enough.
This ultimately led to Di Canio’s sacking after seven games with Sunderland only picking up one point in an away draw to Southampton. One of the major flaws to Sunderland’s season that the signings they made in the summer weren’t good enough. Signings such as El Hadji Ba, David Moberg Karlsson, Andrea Dossena, Cabral, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge and Charalampos Mavrias only made 24 appearances in the Premier League combined.
There were some highlights in the transfer market however as Vito Mannone and Fabio Borini both collected Player of the Year and Young player of the Year respectively as voted by the Sunderland fans. Also Ki Sung-Yeung played a key role for Sunderland in large parts of the season.
With Sunderland sitting bottom of the Premier League, Gus Poyet took the manager’s position at the Stadium of Light and barring the 4-0 away defeat to Swansea he made a great impact at the Stadium of Light.
The home wins against arch rivals Newcastle were topped with a brilliant late winner by soon to be fan favourite Borini and then another win against Manchester City continued Poyet’s successful start.
It was not just the wins but Poyet brought his playing style with him; just as he did at Brighton he got his teams passing from the back and playing in an attractive way.
However it didn’t go all Sunderland and Poyet’s way, as after the Manchester City success on the 10th November they didn’t win a game until a miraculous victory away to Everton in late December, bringing the Toffee’s unbeaten home record in 2013 to come to an abrupt end.
This went on to become a story of Sunderland’s season - that they would turn up for the games against the big teams where the pressure was almost off and have abject performances against the lower teams.
Sunderland finished a poor 2013 bottom of the Premier League on 14 points. Only one team in the history of the Premier League had stayed up from being bottom at Christmas and this is what Sunderland would had have to achieve to continue to be a Premier League team next season.
The Black Cats were the giant killers in the 2013/14 season and this was optimised by their run in the Capital One Cup where thanks to Ki Sung-Yueng they were to beat Chelsea in the 118th minute sending them to the semi-finals where they faced a two legged affair against the champions Manchester United.
The home leg at the Stadium of Light was won 2-1 by the home side, and going into the away leg at Old Trafford the game was in the balance. Johnny Evans first half lead gave Man United the edge and you would think, like United teams of the past, that would be it for Sunderland! Yet - in the dying moments of extra time Phil Bardsley's strike caused a monumental error from David De Gea which sent the away fans into chaos.
The drama didn’t end there; in injury time of extra time there was another twist as Javier Hernández turned in Januzaj’s cross to send the game to penalties where thanks to Vito Mannone’s penalty saves and some terrible misses Sunderland went through to a Wembley final for the first time since 1992.
The January transfer window was a relatively quiet one with Marcos Alonso and Santiago Vergini coming in on loan and Ignacio Scocco and Liam Bridcutt joining on permanent transfers. The winter window also see Modibo Diakite and Cabral going on loan to Fiorentina and Genoa and Ji dong won move to Augsburg.
Following the win at Old Trafford another massive result came at St James’ Park which saw a 3-0 win for the second year in a row and Sunderland’s season had looked like turning around with the help of player of the month for January Adam Johnson who was in fine goal scoring form which had seen him score a hat trick away to relegation rivals Fulham in the process.
The League Cup final which took place on March 2nd began with another Sunderland shock, as on loan Forward Fabio Borini scored a sweetly struck outside of the foot shot from a tight angle and cause what only be described as mayhem in the Sunderland end, and the dream of silverware was almost a reality.
However two fantastic strikes from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri and a further late goal from Jesus Navas ended their hopes. This was no easy game and it was won by a couple of minutes of sheer brilliance from Manchester City which took down a very spirited performance from Sunderland. Being League Cup finalists was a monumental achievement and a feat that Sunderland fans will remember for years to come.
After the final Sunderland’s season did not get a lot better with losses in the FA cup quarter final to Hull and damaging defeats to Norwich, West Ham and a home draw to Crystal Palace. Sunderland looked destined for relegation. As the season entered its final stages Sunderland lost away to Tottenham 5-1 and Everton at home thanks to a Wes Brown own goal.
It looked like there was no coming back and left Sunderland on 25 points from 32 games and seven points away from Norwich who had played two games more than Sunderland. This demise prompted Sunderland manager Gus Poyet to even state that they needed a miracle to survive especially considering they had Manchester City, Chelsea and Man United all away from home.
On the April 16th Sunderland travelled to Manchester City knowing they had to take a result against one the top teams. A second minute goal by Fernandinhio looked to quash that hope but Connor Wickham, who had recently returned from loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, made a colossal impact with two goals which looked like getting the three points for the Black Cats.
But typical of Sunderland they fell short thanks to the ever reliable, Vito Mannone who made an untimely error to give Sunderland only a point. A point never the less was a good point and gave Sunderland confidence. They went into the game against Chelsea in a spirited fashion only to be knocked down by another early goal - this time courtesy of Sameul Eto’o but Sunderland’s never say die attitude was one to be admired.
Thanks to Connor Wickham, who reacted quickest to Mark Schwarzer’s parried shot, they were level and in the 82nd minute a controversial penalty was awarded and Fabio Borini - a man for the pressure occasion - slotted it home and therefore made Sunderland the only team to beat a Jose Mournhio team at Stamford bridge in the Premier League.
Sunderland knew that a win at another relegation threatened team, Cardiff, would see them climb out of the bottom three and a huge step to safety. Connor Wickham continued his goal scoring form with a brace against 10 man Cardiff with help from Giaccherini and a penalty by Borini which saw the 4-0 winners and above the bottom 3 with a game in hand. This immense rise saw Wickham pick up player of the month with 5 goals in April - more than any other player.
Sunderland’s season also included a potential docked points situation when Ji Dong-Won did not have international clearance to play to add the drama of the season but Sunderland were only given a fine instead of docked points.
Going into May, Sunderland’s month began with a trip to Old Trafford, who were under caretaker charge by player manager Ryan Giggs. Sunderland showed, as they have this season, the big teams aren’t the problem and thanks to Sebastian Larsson’s strike they won the game 1-0 and found themselves a win away from safety.
This came at home to West Bromwich Albion who were almost safe themselves and a comfortable 2-0 win thanks to first half goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini saw the great escape completed. Sunderland became the second team ever in the Premier league to stay up after being bottom of Christmas. They ended off the season with a 3-1 home defeat to Swansea and finishing 14th. Key to this end of season success was the fact that Poyet named an unchanged team five games in a row which was a league record for this campaign.
Sunderland’s season was a season that will not be forgotten and Gus Poyet has to take huge credit for taking a dead and buried Sunderland team to 5 points clear of the relegation zone. With his future and a lot of the player’s uncertain, I’d expect there to be still quite a few surprises yet to happen for the Black Cats in the future.
Whatever happens the fans can remember doing the double over Newcastle, getting to the Capital One Cup Final by beating Chelsea and Manchester United, also taking scalps from Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City and Manchester United in the league for the first time since 1968 at Old Trafford.
Would Sunderland fans have taken a cup final and 14th? Probably yes - but without the relegation drama!
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