GRAEME ANDERSON and CHRIS YOUNG look back on Sunderland’s incredible season.
WHO HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS?
GA: If I could have a two-for-one offer, I would select Sunderland’s big two summer signings – Jozy Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini.
There are some who think I might have something personal against Jozy on the back of a clumsy and ill-advised tweet in which I (correctly) pointed out Connor Wickham had done more in one half of a game than the American had done in the preceding three matches.
But I’ve got no agenda at all against him. I would love to see him succeed in a Sunderland shirt.
The reality is, he hasn’t. Two goals in the 39 games he has been involved in this season is an abysmal return. Beyond that, his hold-up play and application were at times similarly dreadful.
Giaccherini has been better – as four goals and four assists testify – but he has too often been a peripheral player when Sunderland fans thought the recruitment of a full Italian international from the Italian champions promised us a star in red and white stripes.
Mention must be made of January signing Nacho Scocco, who came with a fine pedigree but was poor in his Sunderland appearances. He might be the striker who shines next season, but he certainly wasn’t in the season just gone.
Finally, honourable (dishonourable?) mentions for Cabral and Modibo Diakite, who were pretty much hopeless. Cabral was expected to be Sunderland’s box-to-box goalscoring midfielder this season – he wasn’t; Diakite, the rock upon which Sunderland’s defence would be founded – he wasnt.
CY: There was clearly a desire to balance the books in Sunderland’s summer business.
With a greater stress on Financial Fair Play, it was a prudent – if perhaps unpopular – step from the club’s hierarchy.
But there was still money available to splash out on two big signings and both Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore have proved to be distinctly underwhelming.
Giaccherini came good as a substitute over the final furlong, while Altidore reserved his best performance in a Sunderland shirt for the Tyne-Wear derby.
Considering almost £15million was shelled out on the pair though, Sunderland needed a much, much better contribution from each.
BEST GAME OF THE SEASON?
GA: I’ll go for the 3-0 derby win at St James’s Park because it has gone down in folklore already with T-shirts, photographs and videos
For the first decade of the 21st Century – after the unforgettable 2-1 win on Tyneside, when Thomas Sorensen saved Alan Shearer’s penalty – derbies have represented almost unmitigated misery for Sunderland fans.
Last season’s 3-0 win under Paolo Di Canio broke the mould.
It was a glorious epic moment, but it seemed likely to be a one-off.
That was disproved with Borini’s screamer when the teams met at the Stadium of Light early this season and after that, anything would have been bonus for the trip to Tyneside.
Instead it was another stunning result and performance – Borini’s penalty, goals from Adam Johnson and Jack Colback and a day of utter ecstasy for Sunderland fans.
CY: The League Cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford. It was one of THE iconic games in Sunderland’s history.
It had everything – what looked to be a last-gasp extra-time winner from the previously out-in-the-cold Phil Bardsley, a heartbreaking equaliser seconds later, and then fresh ecstasy as Sunderland secured their place at Wembley after possibly the worst penalty shoot-out in history.
To see 9,000 Sunderland fans – many of whom were in tears – witness the occasion simply added to the drama.
WORST GAME OF THE SEASON?
CY: There’s no shortage of contenders after Sunderland time and again proved to be masters of fluffing their lines in the ‘winnable’ games.
But it didn’t get much worse than August’s defeat against a distinctly average Crystal Palace side.
That 3-1 defeat set the tone for the campaign and, even at that early stage, there was a grim realisation that Sunderland were facing an uphill task to beat the drop.
GA: I thought the return leg against Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light was worse – a truly horrendous game in which Palace showed hardly any desire to get out of their own half and a stale Sunderland were utterly unable to break their opponents down.
Sunderland’s home defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham were awful because both sides looked there for the taking.
And mention should be made of Sunderland’s 5-1 hammering by Spurs at White Hart Lane after which Gus Poyet said his side needed a miracle to stay up and rumour has it was prepared to hand in his resignation. Obviously not good.