Gus saves Sunderland’s season
Well I don’t think you’ll find two of these blogs I’ve written this season carrying the same message. Which probably makes me look incredibly reactive and like a knee-jerker, but whilst the football world moves quickly, the world of Sunderland AFC moves ten times as quick.
May 20th, 2014
At least we can say that it’s never dull. Although my fingernails, liver and hairline would often wish that we could have just one ‘boring’ season where we’re comfortably safe and doing nothing. Just a year off. Like Glastonbury does. Then we can resume the chaos.
And what a chaotic season it’s been. Year in fact.
I had to pinch myself in mid-April when someone mentioned to me that it was a year to the day that Martin O’Neill was sacked. It seems a lifetime ago that his dour brand of football was boring the life out of me and turning me off the game entirely.
Enter one Paolo Di Canio. To call the Italian “madcap” would be putting things mildly, and it’s little surprise that, just a few games into this season, everyone had had enough and he was gone.
At that time things seemed even bleaker than they were under O’Neill. While the Northern Irishman was boring his way towards certain relegation, the Italian was blowing the whole thing up and allowing the ashes to slip down into the Championship.
Thankfully it didn’t take long for Ellis Short to find the right man to lead us away from the mire. A man who lies somewhere in between the pair of them. A man with a modern approach but also experienced.
Enter Gustavo Poyet.
Finally we had found our answer to a managerial problem that had plagued us since the days when Steve Bruce wasn’t lost in his own self-worth.
Almost instantly Poyet managed to impact the team for the better, getting them playing to their strengths rather than shoe-horning them into a system they were not used to. The results soon followed.
The wild ride took us from the bottom of the league to having a fighting chance of staying up. To be honest, that would have been enough to satisfy most Sunderland fans — just to look and be competitive again. Well he managed that.
Enter the Capital One Cup.
Bloody hell. The semi-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford wasn’t one for the neutrals, but for every Sunderland fan it was simply incredible, topped only by the big day out itself at Wembley.
Despite the result at Wembley it restored my faith in the club. A 180-degree turn from the feeling under the last days of Di Canio or O’Neill, both of which were very recent memories.
I felt oddly proud to be a Sunderland fan that day rather than murmuring it or lying to people that “I’m not that into football”.
The “Dare To Dream” mantra of the club became more than just a silly hashtag on Twitter to more of an instruction. The more we dreamt and believed, the more everything seemed possible.
The Cup Final will go down as one of my favourite football memories. I’ve been to Wembley to see Sunderland a few times before for play-offs and the 1992 FA Cup final, but was also a lot younger than and the memories somewhat hazy.
It would have been a fitting high-point and end to the season but unfortunately we had to get back to reality and maybe, just maybe “Dare To Dream” of staying up.
Bottom of the league though, this was going to be perhaps a bigger task than upsetting the eventual Champions at Wembley.
At time of writing my last column on these pages we’d just been humped comprehensively by Tottenham Hotspur and I, along with thousands others, had given up all hope of staying up and were planning ahead for life in the Championship. At least we had the Cup Final though eh?
I guess Gus had other ideas. What followed the 5-1 defeat at White Hart Lane was nothing short of incredible.
A draw away at Manchester City topped by a win at Chelsea. A WIN. AT CHELSEA. Something that has never happened in the Premier League on Jose Mourinho’s watch.
The win over Cardiff was kind of expected, but perhaps not in as much style or with so much ease. The win over Manchester United which practically sealed a spot at the Premier League table for next season was as impressive as any other win given how we controlled the game from start to finish.
From then on it was a bit of a cake-walk. A ‘routine’ (given the last few weeks) win over West Brom sealed the deal 110% and it was mission completed for Gus Poyet and his men and put to an end probably the most up and down season in my 25+ years following the club.
Now the task is to build a team that doesn’t get into that position again. Well, I could certainly live with another Cup Final if he fancied it. But other than that let’s hope that Poyet steers the club well away from the relegation zone with some quality signings this summer.
It’s been a wonder that if he’d been in charge for the full season rather than inheriting a dire situation from Paolo Di Canio that we’d have been safe a long time ago. I suppose this coming season we’ll find out for sure. Until then though it’s time to sit back, relax and worry about that when the time comes, safe in the knowledge we’ll be testing our mettle once again in the top flight of English football.