Sunderland's 2020 in review: Winners and losers from a turbulent 12-months at the Stadium of Light
And even in the world of Sunderland AFC, where the strange and left-field is pretty much par for the course, this has been a 12 months like no other.
We saw Sunderland begin the year in 13th place before quickly establishing themselves as League One’s in-form side, tearing apart teams for fun during a pulsating January.
Blur’s Parklife became a post-game anthem as Phil Parkinson looked to have turned the tide.
By the end of November, he was sacked with the side looking about as incisive as a butter knife attempting to cut through a sheet of metal.
We saw Aiden McGeady, the club’s star player for most of 2019, told to train with the under-23 side and firmly removed from the first-team picture - before making a triumphant return in December.
We saw round-after-round of takeover talk, with the owner promising to sell the club in January after fan protests. But as we write this, he remains the majority shareholder - and is set to retain some form of shareholding in the club even if fresh investment is secured.
And we saw Sunderland sentenced to a third year in League One, in another year during which they have never once occupied one of the top two places in the third tier.
Throw in FPP, POMO, PPG, a dabble with Uruguayan politics, a £20.5million hole in the accounts and the departure of more academy talent and you pretty much have the tale of 2020 at the Stadium of Light.
But for all the doom of gloom, there are some green shoots to take as we approach the turn of the year.
The appointment of Lee Johnson has yielded some serious on-pitch improvements and there is cause for optimism (on the field, at least) as we enter 2021.
Yet when we look back in years to come, 2020 will undoubtedly make an interesting chapter in the history books.
So who will be viewed kindly, and who not so much? We reflect on the year that was on Wearside:
A GOOD YEAR FOR…
While on the whole there have been few winners from the last 12 months, there are a handful of players who can look back on 2020 as the year they really made their mark at the Stadium of Light.
Perhaps none more so than Charlie Wyke, who emerged as a key man under Parkinson in the early months of the year before continuing to hit the goal trail once the 2020/21 season begun.
The striker has won over a large number of his critics and looks set to be a key man as we head into 2021.
The same can be said of Denver Hume, who has established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet when fit.
When Sunderland were at their pomp in January, he was at the heart of all that was good about the side - flooding forward and contributing plenty in the attacking phase while also ensuring the Black Cats remained solid at the back.
Fellow academy graduates Jack Diamond and Dan Neil can also reflect on this year as a breakthrough one.
While neither has quite made the impact on the first-team that Hume has, both have certainly caught the eye in the appearances they have made - and their emergence gives some hope for the future of the club after a year in which the club’s academy has lost another handful of talented players.
Joe Hugill, Logan Pye and Bali Mumba have all departed prompting further concerns over the future of the club’s once highly-regarded Category One academy.
But the end of the year brought a renewed focus on youth, spearheaded by new sporting director Kristjaan Speakman and supported by new head coach Lee Johnson.
While it’s too early to say whether that duo will make a positive impact on Sunderland, the early signs have been promising - with attacking football, POMO and a desire to nurture a culture at the club a welcome breath of fresh air.
The same, however, could have been said of an ownership group who promised plenty upon their arrival in 2020, but for whom 2020 was a year to forget.
A BAD YEAR FOR…
As the calendars turned from 2019 to 2020, a desire for change was in the air.
And as we prepare to unfurl the 2021 calendars, that desire is still entirely evident.
The year began with Stewart Donald promising to sell the club after the co-ordinated #DonaldOut campaign towards the end of 2019.
Pressure on the majority shareholder only mounted as the year progressed, with the revelation of a £20.5million hole in the accounts over the summer seeing the heat turned up.
Donald quoted his asking price as a £37.6million - a sum many felt was too high for a League One club.
And that’s what Sunderland are, after the decision to end the season on points-per-game basis saw the Black Cats denied a shot at promotion.
Phil Parkinson was confident the side would have gone up had the campaign continued, but on the whole it was a year to forget for the former Sunderland manager who - aside from an impressive January and September - failed to convince the majority of supporters that he was the man for the job.
Yet for large parts of the season, the action on the field has been something of a sideshow compared to concerns over the off-field future of the club.
After the pressure mounted over the summer, Donald subsequently resigned as chairman and stated his intent to sell as quickly as possible.
But it wasn’t until December 24 that we received confirmation a deal was close to completion.
Sunderland had already twice come close to being sold prior to 2020 - once to Mark Campbell and latterly to the FPP group, but are now closer than ever to a change in ownership.
That change would see Kyril Louis-Dreyfus take a majority share in the club.
Debates will continue as to whether this shift in shareholdings would bring the change that Sunderland so desperately need.
And if there’s one thing we learned from 2020, it’s that change is desperately needed at the Stadium of Light.
Fundamentally, this club cannot move forward until the ownership uncertainty is resolved.
It’s the storyline that has dominated 2020, but it’s one that cannot be allowed to drag too long into 2021.