2014: Chris Young reflects on a memorable Sunderland year

Sunderland fans enjoy the highpoint of 2014 - the Capital One Cup final at Wembley

Sunderland fans enjoy the highpoint of 2014 - the Capital One Cup final at Wembley

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THE FINAL fortnight of 2014 proved to be an appropriate summary of the calendar year.

Great highs through yet another derby success, followed by that sinking feeling of needless, ugly defeats immediately halting any sense of progress.

Perhaps defeat against Hull City should simply serve as a reminder that Sunderland have far from cracked it just yet and it will take many more moons for Gus Poyet’s vision to reach fruition.

But no-one should be dejected when looking back at 2014.

There can have been few calendar years in Sunderland’s history which have been so memorable.

When Sunderland supporters reminisce over the high-spots of the last 12 months, the moments of ecstasy really were sky-high – a first Wembley final for 22 years, a third and fourth victory on the spin against Newcastle United and the greatest escape from the drop in Premier League history.

Every week or even month of utter dejection, seemed to be followed by moments of sheer delirium.

Think back to the very start of 2014 and its inauspicious beginnings when an unforced error – from Lee Cattermole of all people – gifted Aston Villa a New Year’s Day victory.

It wasn’t the last time that Sunderland would be hampered by such self-inflicted clangers.

That defeat threatened to suck any momentum out of Gus Poyet’s side after what had been a profitable Christmas with four points from trips to Everton and Cardiff.

When Sunderland were desperately playing catch-up in the relegation dogfight, the Black Cats could ill-afford to spurn such opportunities.

But it was too soon to write Sunderland off.

After progressing in the FA Cup, Sunderland thrashed Fulham and then enjoyed one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history, as 9,000 souls from Wearside saw the Black Cats progress to the Capital One Cup final after a dramatic penalty-shoot at Old Trafford.

Grown men were in tears at the thought of going to Wembley, and that included some of the players.

It got even better for Sunderland 10 days later when they trounced Newcastle in their own backyard again with a second successive 3-0 victory, which was even more comprehensive than the first.

At that stage, things were looking rosy for Sunderland.

They’d emerged from the bottom three, had a Wembley final to look forwards to and had a chance of getting there a second time in the FA Cup.

Wembley itself was a weekend which would live long in the memory, as a sea of red and white descended on the capital and Poyet’s men gave their all against champions-elect Manchester City before being undone by a couple of wonder strikes.

But the League Cup final influenced Sunderland’s Premier League form both before and after that showpiece event.

Players were clearly mindful of avoiding injury in a heavy defeat at Arsenal eight days prior to Wembley, while afterwards there was a sense of certain individuals downing tools.

It looked like it would have devastating repercussions.

The slump started when Poyet fielded a weakened team in the FA Cup quarter-final at Hull and Sunderland bombed out of the competition.

And it continued with defeats against Norwich and West Ham, plus a Stadium of Light draw against Crystal Palace, leaving Sunderland plunging head-first towards the Championship.

After a 5-1 rout at Spurs, Poyet looked ready to throw in the towel; conceding it would take a “miracle” for his side to avoid the drop.

But whether it was through divine intervention, or players finally grasping the magnitude of the situation, Sunderland performed the impossible.

Four improbable points from trips to Manchester City and Chelsea gave Sunderland the foundation and they took full advantage, with further victories over Cardiff, Manchester United and West Brom taking the Black Cats over the line to an incredible 14th place finish.

It was the greatest of any Premier League escapes, yet with eight players out-of-contract and five on loan, the summer was always going to be one of all-change at the Stadium of Light.

Despite Poyet clearly hankering after further recruits, nine players arrived during the close season. It will hopefully be the last of such supermarket sweep recruitment drives.

For the majority of the first half of the season, it has been a case of Poyet’s new-look side embarking upon slow, steady progress.

There have been dark days – October’s infamous 8-0 spanking at Southampton and Boxing Day’s dismal defeat to Hull.

There have been moments of huge encouragement – a point against runaway leaders Chelsea and yet another derby victory over Newcastle United.

But, for the most part, Sunderland have been unspectacularly consistent; racking up 11 draws from 19 Premier League outings.

Poyet is hankering after more wins in the New Year, but don’t expect Sunderland to veer dramatically from that sluggish route of gradual improvement.

In the long-term, a season like that is needed for Sunderland to move away from annual relegation battles.

But it won’t necessarily equate to an edge-of-the seat 2015.

It will need to go a long way to match the thrills and spills of the last 12 months.

HIGHLIGHT OF 2014:

Despite Premier League survival and another two derby triumphs, the weekend at Wembley will live long in the memory, even if it ended in defeat.

LOWLIGHT OF 2014:

The sense of inevitability surrounding relegation after a 5-1 spanking at Tottenham.

ONE TO WATCH FOR IN 2015:

Jack Rodwell. Surely has to be much, much more to come from the £10million summer signing.