Sunderland's Magnificent Seven - The Key Moments Of The Great Escape

Mike Hewitt

This season has seen more highs than is really appropriate for one culminating in such a desperate scramble for safety. We look at the key moments that paved the way for the great escape.

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Obviously, Gus Poyet is taking all of the plaudits for keeping Sunderland in the Premier League and rightly so. He pulled off the 'miracle' with such precision that it almost left you wondering if he had the script in his hand when he said it.

But how, exactly, did he do it? Here are our key moments and decisions under Poyet on the path to survival.

1 - Borini's bullet

With the scores locked at 1-1 in one of the nervier derby atmospheres that I can remember, Fabio Borini's brilliant strike to beat Tim Krul was a seminal moment.

I mean, it was a late winner against Newcastle United, so it was always destined for legend regardless, but the bigger picture was bleak at that time. It was Sunderland's ninth Premier League game of the season and we were still searching for the first win. Getting it whilst it still actually meant something to the table was vital.

2 - Ki penalty

When Sunderland went to Everton - the club whose hoodoo we fear the most - on Boxing Day and won thanks to a lucky break, we probably should have known there and then that there was nothing we could take for granted this season.

The on-loan Korean capitalised on a mistake from Leon Osman to round Tim Howard, draw the foul and red card, and then calmly slot the penalty kick home himself. A desperate rearguard action against the ten men followed and an unlikely three points were secured.

That, for me, was the win that made you believe survival was possible after the wretched start we endured.

3 - Colback breaks Cardfiff

A 2-2 draw away from home against Cardiff wouldn't really get anyone excited normally, and indeed on the day itself it felt more like a missed opportunity to win than an extremely good point. When Jack Colback popped up with an injury time equaliser in Wales, though, it was an invaluable goal.

A win would have seen Sunderland out of the relegation zone, but had Cardiff grabbed the points they would have been propelled into midtable and given a respite from immediate danger at a time when Vincent Tan's lunacy was putting them under enough pressure as it was.

For Poyet's men, momentum was maintained and would last a little longer. Cardiff, on the other hand, never really appeared to recover from having it snatched away.

4 - Johnson finds his form

He hasn't found consistency and he probably never will, but Sunderland wouldn't have been in a position to claw their way to safety without Adam Johnson's stunning burst of form in the new year. The winger's goals coincided with a ten point haul from four games that briefly lifted the club into twelfth position in the league.

It all had such modest beginnings too. Johnson actually lost his place in the side before Carlisle United ventured across the Pennines for a third round FA Cup tie on the day that Johnson rediscovered his touch and confidence. Don't tell anyone at Sunderland that cup competitions are detrimental to your chances in the league.

5 - Wickham is recalled

What precisely prompted Poyet to recall Connor Wickham from a wholly unsuccessful loan spell at Leeds and suddenly decide to make him the spearhead of the survival bid is anyone's guess, really.

It seemed to come completely out of the blue and, if we are perfectly honest, without any actual discernible merit. It just looked like a desperate final roll of the dice.

What a crucial decision it proved to be, though. Wickham's goals have been a godsend and the single greatest individual contribution to guiding Sunderland to safety. Some credit must be reserved for Poyet though. It wasn't as if Wickham came back and instantly started scoring. Poyet stood by his decision and did not demand instant results. Sometimes, faith is rewarded.

6 - Giacch proves his worth

Emanuele Giaccherini has been a flop, apparently. Well, in fairness, he hasn't lived up to expectations. It was the Italian who got this miracle rolling, though.

With the side a goal down away to Manchester City, the former Juventus man came off the bench and had a stunning impact. Wickham received the accolades for scoring the goals, but it was Giaccherini who created both with superb final passes.

Despite enduring a tough first season in English football, as many foreign players do, Giaccherini proved he has the quality and pedigree to make a difference.

7 - Jozy goes down!

Who'd have thought that Jozy Altidore would have such a vital role in keeping Sunderland up? Okay, he didn't score or anything like that - one miracle at a time, lads - but he was at the heart of perhaps the single biggest moment of the run in.

With the scores level and time ticking away, Altidore took advantage of a Chelsea slip at Stamford Bridge, drew a foul in the box, and won a penalty of colossal importance.

Make no mistake about it, that was probably the key moment of the season at both ends of the table. Sunderland scored and held on for the win that made the great escape possible. Amazing!

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