A year in the spotlight for Sunderland poyet

Sunderland Manager Gus Poyet arrives at the Barclays Premier League match at Turf Moorin September last year
Sunderland Manager Gus Poyet arrives at the Barclays Premier League match at Turf Moorin September last year

GUS Poyet’s first two games in charge of Sunderland perfectly encapsulated the roller-coaster ride that lay ahead of him.

Having inherited a rock-bottom side whose record of one point from the first 21 suggested things could hardly get any worse, they promptly did!

A 4-0 drubbing at Swansea City was worse than anything sacked predecessor Paolo Di Canio had endured that season and the abiding image of the game was a shell-shocked Poyet staring transfixed as his team fell apart in the second half.

At that stage many fans were openly wondering whether Sunderland would even be able to equal their record 15-point relegation of the 2005-06 season

And with the next game up after Swansea being the Wear-Tyne derby, simply avoiding utter humiliation at the hands of the Magpies was uppermost on the minds of many home supporters heading to the Stadium of Light.

But then: all change.

Steven Fletcher put Sunderland ahead in the first five minutes and although Newcastle levelled, on-loan Fabio Borini hit a late winner which was both sublime in its execution and ridiculous in its audacity.

Poyet recalled that long-range rocket shot in yesterday’s Echo as one of his highlights as he reviewed his time in charge.

It was one of the best derby goals ever scored in the North East derby and reminded us that the road from agony to ecstasy, is so often the lot of the Sunderland fan.

That road is also a two-way street though and this was no overnight success story.

Sunderland lost their next game against an un-fancied Steve Bruce side.

In fact they were also brought low by Hull City immediately after the staggering high of achieving another 3-0 at St James’s Park, in February.

It was Hull, who did the treble over Sunderland - knocking them out of the FA Cup when a semi-final beckoned - that provided many of the lows in a season now remembered for the highs of Sunderland’s Capital One Cup final appearance and the Great Escape from relegation.

There was an awful New Year’s Day defeat to fellow relegation battlers Aston Villa and of course the 5-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane in April after which even Poyet claimed Sunderland would need a ‘miracle’ to stay up.

But before that disastrous day there had been that journey to Wembley and a semi-final win over Manchester United, courtesy of a penalty shoot-out, which would live long in the memory.

After the low of White Hart Lane came the astonishing turnaround as a star was born in Connor Whickham and the likes of Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback and Seb Larssson, fought, snarled and helped Sunderland scrap their way to consecutive wins over Chelsea, Cardiff, Man United and West Brom to ensure the most unlikely Premier League survival of all.

Poyet was to remark several times over the course of last season’s titanic struggle - sometimes with a smile on his face; sometimes with a scowl - that it is never dull at this club.

That’s something that anyone who has any sort of history with Sunderland Football Club learns to accept.

Even this season, after only one defeat in six, fingernails were poised for biting until the first league victory of the campaign at the weekend helped improve the picture measurably.

It is the Sunderland way - the constant threat of boom and bust; the need to keep your head when all around are losing theirs.

But passionate Poyet, who loves the drama and the fervour, looks born to it.

HEAD coach Gus Poyet today begins his second year in charge of Sunderland Football Club. GRAEME ANDERSON looks back at his first and considers what the next 12 months might bring.

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