Sunderland season reviews (1): the rocky road to survival

John McCormick:
John McCormick
looking forward to next season

It’s time again for Salut! Sunderland writers, regular or occasional, to look back on a season that carried the now customary threat of relegation before bursting into life with another of our extraordinary late escapes. The reviews will appear pretty much in the order they are received – feel free to have a go if there’s something pressing on your mind – and end with the thoughts of our indefatigable chronicler Pete Sixsmith. Accordingly, we start with associate editor John McCormick

I only managed to get to five matches.

I saw two managers, three goalkeepers, five centre backs, five centre forwards and a total of 25 players taking the pitch. I saw three defeats and a draw, with five players scoring eight goals between them, while we conceded 13. I only saw one win but what a win it was.

My season started optimistically, went downhill and then recovered just enough to provide hope that we could overcome the odds.

It was Sunderland’s season in a nutshell.

Dick did the right thing and went
Dick did the right thing and went
Ed was away so he brought on his sub for Spurs and I made the trip to the North Stand for my first game. We defended well but not well enough and after holding out for most of the game we slipped up and gave Spurs their first win of the season. I sent a seven word text to Colin

“did not look like a relegation team”,

and we didn’t.

I was optimistic.

An eventful month later and it was Newcastle at the SOL for our traditional baptism of fire for a new manager. Back to the North Stand, this time to cheer and sing as we kept to tradition and swept the enemy aside after a shaky start. Billy Jones even popped up with a goal, and at the end of the match, with said enemy above us, the North Stand, indeed the whole ground, echoed with

“six in a row, it’s six in a row, lock up your horses, it’s six in a row”.


lock up your horses, it's six in a row, as sung by the North Stand
lock up your horses, it’s six in a row, as sung by the North Stand

Our sixth in a row, our first win of the season. We were off and running, not to mention exultant.

Tributes from the family
“There’s only one Howard Kendall”. Impeccably observed
Only we weren’t off and running for long. Tradition also dictates we do badly after the derby and this season was no exception.

The next week, at Goodison, we went mad and tried to win a game we’d fought our way back into. From 2-0 down, to 2-2, and then they put another 4 past us. Slow, ponderous, easily turned…  … I could go on in outlining our weaknesses.

It did not look good.

And we lost our next game, at home to Southampton, after one of our best  players gave away a soft penalty.  We did stage a revival, even managing two wins in succession (and I’d have been at one of them had it not been moved to Monday night) before going on a long run of defeats. We were getting dragged deeper and deeper into the mire.

Then came New Year, and with successive wins against Villa and Swansea, New Hope.

Which brought us to high flying and free-scoring Spurs. This time it was Will who was away, colliding large hadrons at CERN, and I used his season ticket to get a decent view of the game.

Once again, we held Spurs, but not for long enough. We even scored first, causing me to leap out of my seat; luckily, I remembered where I was just in time.

But within a minute Spurs were level and we looked  out of ideas as they continued to press. I reckoned they’d be ahead within the hour; it took them 58 minutes.

After that we were dead in the water, especially after Sam got it wrong and brought on the Hoff for a nightmare debut. We were in disarray on the pitch, and in trouble off it.

Sam cocked it up at Spurs
Sam cocked it up at Spurs

but we had Sam
but we had Sam
But Sam was getting it more right than wrong. He got rid of some weak players, continued to by sensibly, and began to forge a team. So it was that, just three games later, at Anfield, we came back from 2-0 down (Billy Jones went from hero to villain with one dalliance and I don’t think we’ll see him again) to draw 2-2. A last minute goal from Jermain Defoe showed all those ”fans” who leave early why they’re wrong

the final whistle at Anfield
The final whistle at Anfield

I said to Pete, as we made our way to the bus stop, Liverpool was probably going to be my last game of the season and that’s how it turned out. Stoke was a possibility but it didn’t come off, nor did West Ham away, which was always more unlikely. But, to some extent, they weren’t as crucial. It was Liverpool away which was the turning point, I think.

Before then we’d had mainly losses. After that they just about stopped. We beat Man Utd in the next game, and despite one narrow loss at West Ham and another against the soon-to-be champions, we put together a run that got us within striking distance of safety. We had a chance

And we took it.

I couldn’t be there for those end of season games but we won the ones that mattered, and that’s what matters.

And when I look back on the season I can say I got there, we got there, and I saw us do six in a row.

highlight of the season
I got there, and I saw our sixth in a row


Keep the faith


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