Sunderland Season Review: Advocaat Leads Mackems to Safety


Twelve months ago it was to be the greatest escape of all great escapes. Gus Poyet has masterminded securing Sunderland from safety, but fans would have surely hoped for a more peaceful season ahead. Alas, it was not to be, as is the theme for the north east. A mid-season managerial sacking added fuel to the chaotic fire once again, but Dick Advocaat was canny enough to steer Sunderland clear from relegation with a game to go, in another season which often tethered on the brink.

It seems hard to disentangle any context of the 2014/15 season for Sunderland without looking to the immediate past, with an eye on the 2013/14 season. Hailed as the great escape Sunderland ended the previous season elated, having beaten Chelsea and drawn with Manchester City on the way to securing safety late in the spring. This season though, it has seemed a far more tiring experience for Mackems fans. Can they keep on securing safety so late? A look at now League 1 Wigan suggests their luck may not last forever.

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“No more miracles and no more suffering,” was Gus Poyet’s pledge ahead of the 2014/15 campaign, after somehow keeping Sunderland in the Premier League. Despite going winless in their first six this season, five draws – including a 1-1 with Manchester United and 2-2 with Tottenham – suggested Sunderland were on course for a more prosperous campaign, with a subsequent 3-1 win over Stoke appearing to be the breakthrough they needed.

Nevertheless, humiliation soon followed with an 8-0 thrashing at Southampton. Five draws and a loss at home to Manchester City would follow, before Adam Johnson scored a last-minute winner against Newcastle to move Sunderland up to 14th, four points clear of the relegation zone. The ship appeared to have been stabilised – but that was as good as it got for Poyet.

Results began to really nosedive – Sunderland managed just one win – against Burnley – in their 12 Premier League games after the derby and soon Advocaat was installed as a Hail Mary move to keep the Mackems in the Premier League.

Advocaat’s reign started with defeat at West Ham but, after returning from the international break, Sunderland scored a vital morale-boosting win over rivals Newcastle, with Defoe netting one of the goals of the season to seal a fifth straight Tyne-Wear derby win. A 4-1 loss at home to Crystal Palace suggested Sunderland’s derby delight may have once again been a false dawn, but incredibly the Black Cats bounced back and a five-game undefeated run left them celebrating survival at Arsenal with one match to spare. On the night Advocaat shed tears and was visibly moved by the passion of the Sunderland fans; perhaps one of the moments of the season.

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Player wise Sebastian Laarson was the stand out player for the season. Consistent, if not star quality, the versatile midfielder gives his all every week. In stark juxtaposition to Laarson, Jack Rodwell was a huge flop. Rodwell was supposed to be their marquee signing at £10m from Manchester City and he talked of an England recall – in the end, he struggled to win a place in the Sunderland side.

Next season Sunderland must plan better. With or without Advocaat they cannot afford months of malaise which has too often been the case in recent years. More prudent spending is required for a team short on quality but high on relative wages. Unless Sunderland really up their game next season relegation is a stark possibility.

Season Verdict: C