2013: A Year In The Life Of Sunderland AFC

Stu Forster

Things are rarely dull on Wearside, but 2013 has been a rather exceptional one for the men in red and white, for mostly the wrong reasons...

January

Hope springs eternal in SR5.

Fresh on the back of reporters asking him if he "doubted himself," Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill had promptly put together a promising run of results at the end of 2012, including the annual 1-0 victory over Manchester City. Moving into 2013, a trip to Anfield looked a good test of the Wearsiders' newfound resolve; to the surprise of absolutely no one, they succumbed to a 0-3 defeat.

Three days later a trip to Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup saw a colossal Carlos Cuéllar brainfart help put the hosts firmly in the ascendancy, before a late Craig Gardner strike caused pandemonium amongst the 5,000-strong travelling support.

An unusually routine 3-0 victory at home to West Ham followed, before any hopes of a trophy evaporated courtesy of a miserly 0-2 defeat in the midweek replay, a game where Mr O'Neill named just six substitutes and no one was quite sure why.

A 3-2 victory away at Wigan Athletic had plenty banishing the very thought of relegation firmly from their minds, before a dour 0-0 draw with Swansea City in which Danny Graham was booed onto the Stadium of Light turf. The man from Gateshead then signed for Sunderland some 48 hours later, standing at a snow-blessed Academy of Light clutching a football and shivering his tits off.

He joined some fella from Bursaspor called Alf and Kader Mangane (aye, remember him? Thought not...) as new arrivals before the transfer window "slammed shut" and Jim White left us all alone for another few months.

February

On the back of an up-and-down opening month of the year, Sunderland found themselves struck with a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder in February, notching a trio of defeats and sub-par performances.

The away trip to the Godawful side that was Reading FC ended in predictable fashion as Jimmy Kebe sealed a late win for the men from the Madjeski, before Santi Cazorla's strike won Arsenal all three points at the Stadium of Light a week later.

The month ended with a Romelu Lukaku brace - helped in no small part by a long overdue Titus Bramble howler - at The Hawthorns, where West Brom continued their uncanny knack of beating us every time we sodding go there.

March

And so, the madness begins. Two goals down before most have taken their seats at home to Fulham, O'Neill's men rallied back to nick a point at home to the league's worst travellers. Sunderland themselves put forward an excellent audition for the latter title, trotting off to bottom-placed Queens Park Rangers and finding themselves on the end of a 1-3 humping. Later that evening, Ellis Short dined with an Italian man of questionable locks and the seeds were sewn for a summer of upheaval.

A week later, Norwich City visited Wearside, lost their goalkeeper to a red card and still looked the more likely to score, as a Craig Gardner penalty was only sufficient to extract a paltry point in a game that would go on to be played in an endless loop at Guantanamo Bay as part of the USA's revamped torture techniques.

Manchester United then rocked up for their annual victory at the Stadium of Light, a game so lacking in vitality that it would ultimately end Martin O'Neill's desperately disappointing reign as Sunderland manager.

Rumours soon circulated that Ellis Short was to bring in the madcap Paolo Di Canio as his replacement, and club staff frantically checked the Chairman's cupboard for traces of ganja. Not wishing to partake in the biggest April Fools joke of the century, Short promptly appointed the former Swindon Town manager on March 31, as much of the country looked on in bemusement.

April

Fuck knows how we summarise this month. So breathless was it that the use of full stops and punctuation would be unfitting to the straight-up bonkersness of it all, so here goes:

Di Canio's opening press conference ended in farce as the Italian stormed out following constant questions regarding his "Fascist" beliefs before he took his side to Chelsea and they actually looked quite decent and organised and took the lead somehow before the men in Blue wrested back a 2-1 win and then with everyone completely fucking terrified of what was going to happen in the Tyne-Wear derby Sunderland somehow went up to St James Park and absolutely battered Newcastle 3-0 and Di Canio did a kneeslide on the turf and everyone generally went bonkers and then the Black Cats also beat Everton which absolutely never happens so Ellis Short went out on the town and got pissed before a massive huge relegation trip to Aston Villa ended in a 1-6 thumping and no one was quite sure what to think.

Aaaaaaand breathe.

May

The final month of the season rolled around with most observers nodding in agreement with the new manager's assessment of the poor state the club was in, but wondering quite whether or not this man was a certifiable candidate for management in the Premier League.

Baffling team selections in successive home games, first against Stoke City, then Southampton, eventually saw two 1-1 draws extracted, before safety was confirmed when Arsenal beat Wigan Athletic at The Emirates, condemning the latter to life in the Championship. Sunderland's season ended with a late Gareth Bale thunderbolt ensuring Spurs a 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane, before Di Canio entered the press room and unleashed a 20-minute long sermon on the unprofessional nature of his playing squad.

Chief among his thoughts was the soon to be ostracised Phil Bardsley, the full-back having been pictured lying on the floor of a casino at 4am, covered in £50 notes, when he was due in at training the following morning.

A summer of change awaited, with Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon the first departing casualties. Duncan Watmore signed from Altrincham.

June

It's June and domestic football, so sod all should have happened. Instead, Roberto De Fanti joined as Director of Football - the first in Sunderland's history - bringing with him Chief Scout Valentino Angeloni and a whole swathe of irritating transfer rumours that sent various members of the Roker Report team into sleepless overdrive.

Ahmed Elmohamady left for pastures new at Hull City and no one cared, while Simon Mignolet signed for Liverpool and everybody cared (and worried).

David Moberg Karlsson kicked off the influx of unknown foreigners, joining Seb Larsson in the 'Beautiful Swedes' corner of the dressing room.

July

Hectic doesn't quite cover it. Scarcely a day goes by where Sunderland aren't linked with someone who none of us have heard of but can't quite help but build our hopes up about. Ultimately, seven newbies join in July: Cabral, Mobido Diakite, Valentin Roberge, Vito Mannone, El-Hadji Ba, Jozy Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini. The latter two join for sizeable fees, with Giaccherini - and Italian international from Juventus - seen as a particular coup.

Meanwhile, Phil Bardsley is sent to the first known Gulag in Britain (possibly).

August

The big KO rolls around, but not a crazy Czech with a penchant for baths and daft hats joins on loan. That same crazy Czech offers up a rocket of a strike in the opening game at home to Fulham, but his effort is tipped around the post as the men from London somehow come away from the Stadium of Light with all three points.

The consensus is that Sunderland look promising, but yet another goal conceded from a corner under Di Canio gets alarm bells ringing for some. Phil Bardsley laughs at the side's loss on Instagram and commands the ire of Sunderland fans everywhere.

A 1-1 draw follows at Southampton, where the Black Cats are largely outplayed but still hold the lead until roughly three minutes from the end, before a 1-3 defeat against an utterly useless Crystal Palace side has many questioning the manager's credentials.

Di Canio does little to help himself, publicly castigating John O'Shea - his captain - and Ji Dong-Won - a man for whom he had recently turned down a £5m bid from Borussia Dortmund - after the game. Prior to that, an astonishingly bad performance at home to MK Dons in the League Cup saw Connor Wickham rescue proceedings with a late brace, with Sunderland somehow running out 4-2 victors.

Charalampos Mavrias joins amid much fanfare; Ki Sung-Yeung arrives on loan to the interest of hardly anyone.

September

A couple of Liverpool rejects in the form of Andrea Dossena and Fabio Borini arrive on the final day of the transfer deadline, the latter on loan.

Paolo Di Canio's unique managerial strategy introduces the novel concept of conceding three goals a game, as Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion follow Crystal Palace's lead. The latter defeat at The Hawthorns sees Di Canio stride onto the turf and remonstrate with the away end, before a players' meeting the following day turns mutinous and ends with the Italian unceremoniously dumped less than six months after taking the job.

Kevin Ball assumes the poisoned chalice that is the Sunderland manager's job - albeit on a temporary basis - and an air of calm washes over Wearside as he oversees a professional 2-0 defeat of Peterborough in the League Cup. His side then starts positively against Liverpool but are unable to buck the conceding trend, as the Reds battle through to a 3-1 win.

October

David Moyes' Manchester United arrive on Wearside low on confidence and find themselves behind within five minutes, only to rally after the break via an Adnan Januzaj brace. The consensus is that Kevin Ball has done himself no harm during his short stint at the helm, but Ellis Short instead opts for the measured but rather unknown presence of Gus Poyet as the latest man to hop onboard the managerial merry-go-round.

Poyet's reign gets off to a sour start when Phil Bardsley is recalled to the first team despite his prior indiscretions, and things soon go from bad to worse when a promising start at Swansea City ends in a 0-4 capitulation and a staggeringly spineless second half showing.

The Wear-Tyne derby rolls around with precisely not one person on Wearside looking forward to it, but somehow Fabio Borini plants one in the top corner, everyone goes mental and Sunderland have their first win of the season.

November

In the space of roughly five minutes in Hull, Gus Poyet's hair turns from jet black to shimmering silver. Already a goal down and frustrated, Lee Cattermole plunges into a challenge that sees him dismissed, before Andrea Dossena attempts to stamp David Meyler's very existence six feet underground and joins his captain in the dressing room.

A spirited showing from the nine men proves insufficient as Steve Bruce's side win 1-0. Wes Brown returns to the line-up and deposits Sergio Aguero in his pocket for the customary 1-0 victory over Manchester City, before he then sees red at Stoke City for arguably one of the better challenges you'll see this season. The card is later rescinded, but that is of little consolation to Poyet and his men, who lose 0-2 despite slowly but surely implementing a new and attractive possession-based style of football.

Emanuele Giaccherini misses from a yard out at Aston Villa and a 0-0 draw sees honours shared.

December

Jozy Altidore finally scores, Phil Bardsley scores in both ends and Eden Hazard has an absolute blinder as Chelsea win 4-3 on Wearside.

Spurs complete a duo of successful away trips for London sides three days later, winning 2-1 against a lethargic Sunderland side. Poyet's men then dominate at West Ham, but fail to score, before ensuring a third 0-0 draw in a month at home to Norwich City. Meanwhile, in the cup, a late late LATE Ki Sung-Yeung winner ensures a memorable defeat of Chelsea, and sets up a mouthwatering semi-final tie with Manchester United in the new year.

Boxing Day's trip to Everton confirms the resolve Poyet seems to have injected, a Ki penalty proving enough to secure a massive 1-0 win at Goodison Park, before Jack Colback's late deflected strike ensures a point at Cardiff City in a game where the red and whites are largely awful yet still create enough chances to win the game.

It brings to an end one of the most baffling, entertaining, demoralising and mental years in the recent history of Sunderland AFC.

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