Sunderland’s end-of-season verdict

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill acknowledges the crowd during the lap of honour.'Sunderland AFC v Manchester United FC'Stadium of Light.'Last match of the 2011-12 season, Manchester Utd won 1-0 but finished second to Manchester City on goal difference after City beat QPR scoring  two goals in injury time.

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill acknowledges the crowd during the lap of honour.'Sunderland AFC v Manchester United FC'Stadium of Light.'Last match of the 2011-12 season, Manchester Utd won 1-0 but finished second to Manchester City on goal difference after City beat QPR scoring two goals in injury time.

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Football Echo writers Graeme Anderson and Chris Young followed Sunderland’s 2011/12 campaign every step of the way.

It was a season which saw the sacking of Steve Bruce and the hiring of Martin O’Neill; the appointment of a new chairman, in Ellis Short, and the departure of another, with Niall Quinn’s surprise decision to bow out.

It was a season when Sunderland flirted with relegation but discovered a stunning vein of form to escape it.

A season when they couldn’t replicate their top-10 finish of last season but finally found the legs for a cup run for the first time in years.

In short, a typically unpredictable Sunderland season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON?

GRAEME: Some might say Martin O’Neill’s appointment, but I think of the games. The new manager’s opening win against Blackburn was a great moment, while beating Arsenal in the FA Cup and taking Man City to the brink at the Etihad were memorable. But you don’t get better than Ji Dong-won’s winner against Man City on New Year’s Day – incredible, stunning, exhilarating and hilarious, all at the same time.

CHRIS: The pinnacle of the campaign was minutes away from arriving at the Sports Direct Arena, only for Shola Ameobi to again perfect his routine as Sunderland’s derby nemesis.

Although Ameobi’s late leveller spoiled what would have been a stunning derby debut for Martin O’Neill, there were plenty of other rosy afternoons under the Black Cats boss.

It’s tough to look too much further than the first one, though, for the season’s highlight – those dramatic late scenes against Blackburn arguably providing the turning point in Sunderland’s season.

Had Sunderland failed to vanquish Blackburn, then the whole O’Neill revolution would have been stopped in its tracks.

But the late goals from David Vaughan and Seb Larsson gave Sunderland momentum and provided the glorious sight of O’Neill leaping into the air in the role of the Stadium of Light’s new darling.

* Read the full review only in tonight’s Football Echo