Sunderland swing from deepest low to new high: Key moments from a dramatic 2018 on Wearside
2018 will live long in the memory of Sunderland AFC supporters, from the lowest of lows to the incredible wave of positivity the club now finds itself riding.
Twelve months ago Sunderland were battling the drop, confidence at an all-time low amongst the squad and the long-suffering fans.
An absent owner at the helm in Ellis Short who had decided enough was enough when it came to pumping the same level of money into the club.
He wanted out. Sunderland fans wanted him out. It had long-since turned toxic, with the Black Cats struggling to win on home soil in front of those pink, faded seats.
They had come to symbolise all that was wrong with the club.
Despite his best efforts, Chris Coleman was unable to steer Sunderland away from a humiliating relegation to League One.
The club on its knees, with huge debts and mounting financial problems and a squad crippled by overpaid, under-performing players.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed; Coleman sacked, Short sold to Stewart Donald, Jack Ross appointed as new manager a few weeks later.
Ever since, Sunderland has been on an upward curve; 12 new players arrived, Ross quickly forged a winning mentality, there was financial stability and the buzz was back on Wearside, with promotion-chasing SAFC well placed in League One. Oh, and those pink seats replaced.
We’ve picked out some of the key moments and players from 2018.
Sunday, April 29, will go down as a pivotal day in the history of Sunderland AFC. Coleman was sacked shortly before news broke Short had sold the club debt-free to Donald in a £40million deal.
It was a dramatic day; the Sunderland fanbase had renewed hoped and optimism.
The new owners promised fresh investment, a fresh outlook, more engagement and they have delivered on all fronts as they aim to win promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
Credit to Short for the deal, ensuring SAFC was debt-free removed a huge financial burden and allowed the new owners to get on with the job of rebuilding the club quickly.
Josh Maja. Has to be. The 19-year-old striker has scored 13 goals this season, 12 in League One.
With Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore out injured and Jerome Sinclair yet to find his feet, Maja had to shoulder the responsibility. And he has done so magnificently.
Clinical in the penalty area, he has a huge future ahead, hopefully on Wearside.
George Honeyman. Granted the bar was set low for last season given the club suffered a successive relegation but Honeyman was one of the standout players last term.
Commitment and passion couldn’t be faulted, highlighted in the Netflix documentary.
And he has carried that into this season, complete with the armband. Honeyman has his critics and there is still much to improve but in terms of players here for the duration of 2018, Honeyman has been the standout performer.
Lynden Gooch also enjoyed a strong second half to the year.
The goalkeepers of last season, predominantly Jason Steele and Lee Camp.
Robbin Ruiter was also at fault at times but he also missed a large chunk through injury.
The goalkeeping unit cost SAFC countless points. And there is a strong argument that if there was a reliable stopper in goal, Sunderland would still be playing Championship football.
Thankfully, a priority for Ross was landing Jon McLaughlin, superb since joining.
Best game: Sunderland 3 Wolves 0
A strange choice perhaps given there was nothing riding on it, Sunderland already relegated and Wolves already champions.
But that season finale at a sun-kissed Stadium of Light on May 6 gave an indication of what was to come.
Almost 30,000 fans watched Sunderland tear through the division’s best team who, arguably, may have had one eye on the beach. Donald was watching on, younger players given a chance, the buzz was back.
And it carried on into this season, the dramatic last-minute 2-1 home win over Charlton Athletic setting the tone.
McLaughlin, Chris Maguire, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Max Power & Co have all proved good signings.
The best signing Donald & Co made, however, was the appointment of Ross.
An excellent man manager, tactician and communicator, the Scot has a steely determination and confidence that will serve him well.
The Sunderland squad is certainly responding to his methods and long may it continue.