Until as recently as the weekend, no one could seriously fault the bookies’ belief that Sunderland were relegation probabilities. Now, Chris Coleman has made the sort of start after replcaing Simon Grayson as manager to encourage measured hope that a swift ascent of the Championship table is more likely. Here, William Sundin, a media production graduate from Sunderland University, looks back at the short but successful stint of one of Coleman’s predecessors Sam Allardyce, who has now steered Everton to ninth top, and wonders when the two clubs may meet again in the top flight …
Everton recently made the wise decision to bring in Sam Allardyce to save their season after they got off to a dismal start under Ronald Koeman.
Big Sam already has the team climbing back up the table and it wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that having taken over a team staring relegation in the face, he could even steer them towards a top six finish.
As the football world applauds the immediate impact Allardyce has had at Goodison Park, let’s remember the 63-year-old manager’s short yet incredible time with Sunderland when he saved the side from relegation at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Now in the Championship and trying the shrug off a truly woeful star of their own, Sunderland could almost look back fondly on the past few years when they were sitting at the top table of English football, albeit at the wrong end of it. If they were too often struggling then, too, at least it was against the elite teams in the country.
Now, the challenge of getting back there is a daunting one, with football betting tips sites favouring them to sink down another division. After the 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers but before that vital first home win for year, again Fulham, Chris Coleman’s side could be backed at around 5/4 for the drop.
When Big Sam was appointed as the new boss at the Stadium of Light in October of 2015, Sunderland were in disarray and had claimed only three points from their opening eight Premier League games under Dick Advocaat, himself the previous season’s saviour.
They sat 19th in the table and, with a below-par set of players, it was clear that Allardyce had a monumental task on his hands.
Things didn’t click into place instantly for a manager who has never been relegated from the top flight, and at the halfway point of the campaign, Sunderland still had only 12 points and looked doomed to slide into the Championship.
It was the January transfer window that provided the turning point in Sunderland’s season. A vastly experience top flight manager, with spells at six other clubs including Crystal Palac and West Ham United, Allardyce made some shrewd acquisitions in the market with the limited budget he had.
He identified the need to bolster up the defence with the addition of a centre back and defensive midfielder, so brought in Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff to fill these roles. Allardyce also realised that a creative attacking midfielder was essential, so drafted in Wahbi Khazri for the job.
These players became known as the Sunderland “Special K”, and some pundits later went on to describe them as the future of the club.
All were outstanding in the 2015-16 campaign and helped save Sunderland from going down. Sadly, since then, all three have drastically underachieved. At the time, though, their arrival amounted to a masterstroke by Allardyce, who went on to save Sunderland. What made it so much sweeter on Wearside was that survival was won at the expense of Newcastle United. It was a crying shame that he left for his short-lived tenure of the England job; all those hopes of building a new era without annual relegation battles were soon destroyed.
With time and money to spend at Goodison Park, one of the great managers of the English game should have the chance to build something special.
And most Sunderland fans who remember his amazing time on Wearside would wish him all the best while hoping the breath of fresh air provided by Coleman will in time ensure Everton are back at the Stadium of Light for Premier League games against a side finally able to compete at the highest level.