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Diary of a Season: November 2013 to January 2014

Paolo Di Canio is but a distant, distasteful memory, as Gus Poyet sets about the footballing equivalent of ramming the Titanic into the iceberg then single-handedly trying to keep it afloat. It may have started in Wales with a day of hell yet, slowly but surely, Sunderland are clawing back the deficit...

Laurence Griffiths

November 2: Gus Poyet's task in hand becomes all too evident following a nightmare 45 minutes on Humberside. His vision for a passing future looks woefully misguided as his side struggle to keep the ball within the confines of the pitch, never mind find a team-mate, before Lee Cattermole lunges into an early bath, soon to be joined by Andrea Dossena, who is bewildered by the fact that trying to stamp David Meyler all the way to China is, in fact, a sending off offence. The nine men actually fare well in the second half, but an early Carlos Cuéllar own goal (shock) is enough to see the hosts and a podgy-faced gaffer victorious.

November 3: Various residents of Wearside attend anger management classes, having worked themselves into a state of apoplexy watching the previous day's events unfold.

November 5: Southampton visit the Stadium of Light in the Capital One Cup fourth round and we get our first glimpse of the Poyet way. Sunderland look measured, controlled and, dare we say it, slick in possession as they see off the Saints 2-1, setting up a cup quarter-final tie with Chelsea. No one is quite sure how this has transpired.

November 7: Vito Mannone, following his first start of the season in the Southampton victory, declares his intent to make the number 1 spot his own. He and Keiren Westwood are widely regarded as much of a muchness.

November 9: Martin O'Neill declares that Sunderland would not be in the mess they are mired in had they retained his services.

November 10: Manchester City lose 0-1 at the Stadium of Light for the fourth consecutive year. Baffling. Phil Bardsley slots home the coolest of finishes. Even more baffling. We've won a league game and it's not against the Mags. We're all going to wake up and go back to reality soon.

November 14: Jozy Altidore points into the distance and asks his coaches, "What's that?" They soon realise he is pointing at a goal. God help us.

November 23: Sunderland travel to Stoke City and see Wes Brown sent off for winning the ball in a tackle. Yep. Stoke win 2-0 against a visiting side that had, admittedly, already been poor, but the ineptitude of Kevin Friend makes sure Gus Poyet's coat goes soaring through the air in frustration. The Uruguayan is beginning to regret all that hat-throwing.

November 26: Amazingly, Wes Brown's red card is overturned. Even more amazingly, he doesn't suffer an injury, despite enduring the full glare of the media spotlight for a few days.

November 28: Fabio Borini bemoans his lack of playing time in a Sunderland shirt and contemplates an early return to Liverpool. It's not like he'd be a great miss, anyway.

November 30: Sunderland pass well and play well but can't score at Aston Villa. Emanuele Giaccherini somehow misses from roughly forty-six centimetres. Gus Poyet bursts a blood vessel or ten.

December 1: Advent begins. Sunderland are bottom of the league. If that's still the case in twenty-four days, according to Premier League logic (imagine the handbook for that?!), we're officially relegated. Or something.

December 4: Sunderland score three times at home! Against Chelsea! Jozy Altidore scores! JOZY ALTIDORE SCORES! JOSMER. VOLMY. ALTIDORE. SCORES. FOR. SUNDERLAND. IN. THE. PREMIER. LEAGUE. But, Eden Hazard scores too. Two, in fact. In further facts, the Belgian is absolutely majestic, tearing poor Phil Bardsley (who scores twice, once for Sunderland, once against them) to shreds. A stupendously exciting game ends 4-3 to the visitors and we have a smidgen, just a smidgen, of hope.

December 7: Gus Poyet goes all 4-4-2 and lumping it forward against Spurs and is deservedly punished with a 1-2 defeat; were it not for Vito Mannone, the margin of victory would be far greater for AVB's men. We are, to put it pleasantly, shit.

December 14: West Ham is the next port of call in the recurring series of 'Sunderland's Winless Away Days,' as the Black Cats travel to East London and do pretty much everything but score. Fabio Borini and Jozy Altidore spurn great chances, Ki Sung-Yeung probes but cannot finish, and, ultimately, a second consecutive 0-0 draw on the road is the result.

December 15-17: Roker Report nearly gets shut down. Men, women and the extra-terrestrial lifeforms of the RTG forum rejoice as one at the news.

December 17: Jose Mourinho and his oligarchy travel to Wearside for the second time in a fortnight and, for 89 minutes, look to be cruising into the Capital One Cup semi-finals. But then Jozy Altidore bumbles his way into the box and lays the ball off to Fabio Borini, who calmly strokes home an equaliser. Thirty extra minutes of home dominance follow before, in a true Christmas miracle, Ki slams a winner past the wrongfooted Mark Schwarzer. He's got the Ki, he's got the secret, we've got a semi-final upcoming. HOW?!

December 19: David Moberg Karlsson suggests a brighter future is not too far away for him on Wearside. His Secret Santa is reprimanded for giving him marijuana as a gift.

December 21: Sunderland set a new record for the earliest "must win" game ever played in a domestic season. Of course, they fail to win it, and instead come perilously close to losing at home to a Norwich City side who otherwise couldn't score in a brothel armed to the hilt with 50 quid notes all the while boasting a member that would make Jozy Altidore jealous. Another 0-0 has plenty wondering just where the bloody hell our goals are going to come from.

December 25: Sunderland are bottom of the league. Merry f'ing Christmas.

December 26: Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to see SUN'LUN WIN AWAY. Somehow, against all logic, Sunderland defeat Everton at Goodison Park, inflicting the Toffees' first (and only) home league defeat in the entirety of 2013. Poyet's side are hanging on against ten men for the whole second half, but sod it, we've actually won away. In other news, a certain 'Things Can Only Get Better' song is adopted by the travelling red and white army...

December 28: Mobido Diakite and Valentin Roberge, so solid two days prior, revert to their Keystone Cops routine, as Sunderland plummet to a two-goal deficit away at the recently Malky Mackay-less Cardiff City. Steven Fletcher immediately comes on and turns home a devilishly difficult opportunity - thus making further mockery of Jozy Altidore missing from two yards in the first half - before Jack Colback scores in approximately the seven millionth minute of injury time to secure a crucial point.

December 30: Gus Poyet confirms Sunderland will sign a left-back on loan in January, but he's a Bolton Wanderers reject, so meh.

December 31: Liam Bridcutt is linked with Sunderland, thus setting in motion a transfer saga that Steven Fletcher would be proud of.

January 1: Happy New Ye...bollocks. Lee Cattermole, passer extraordinaire, heel turns, falls over, and gifts Gabriel Agbonlahor the sole goal in a loathsome visit from Aston Villa. Paul Lambert's men kick, thump and time-waste their way to victory, and 2014 looks set to be a continuation of Sunderland's misery.

January 3: It is announced that Sunderland fans will be forced to travel to February's Tyne-Wear derby on organised buses, or not be allowed into the ground at all. When faced with a backlash from football supporters, Northumbria Police are shocked to learn that animals can talk.

January 5: Sunderland 3-1 Carlisle United, FA Cup third road. Minor scare. Comfortable end result. Cushty.

January 7: Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Sunderland and Newcastle United team up, collectively mooning and giving the V's to Northumbria Police. The 'bubble' trip is no more, and the extent to which NP have dictated recent derby kick-off times is laid excruciatingly bare. Oh aye, we beat Manchester United in the first leg of the semi-final, 'n'all.

January 8: Phone lines jam at Black Cat House as 9,000 empty pink seats attempt to secure tickets for the return cup game at Old Trafford in a fortnight. LALAS.

January 9: Cabral - whee's he? - leaves for Genoa. Many are outraged on the back of one long shot against the league's worst defence that didn't even go in.

January 10: I write about the mysteriously poor form of Adam Johnson since he signed for Sunderland well over a year ago, imploring that he needs tactics to suit him and the full backing of the red and white fans...

January 11: Adam Johnson scores a hat-trick as Sunderland beat Fulham away, 4-1. Kneel at my feet, peasants.

January 14: Ki Sung-Yeung has us all lubed up and is just teasing now. The beloved South Korean intimates that he would love to stay on Wearside if Sunderland beat the drop.

January 15: Liam Bridcutt is linked with Sunderland.

January 16: Liam Bridcutt is linked with Sunderland.

January 17: You get the point. Roberto De Fanti is ousted as Director of Football. Good work, Roberto.

January 18: Sunderland are ripped apart inside thirty minutes by a brilliant Southampton side. Fortunately, Fabio Borini halves the deficit in quick fashion and Poyet's men are able to salvage a point against the tiring Saints, courtesy of a thwacked right-footed finish by the resurgent Adam Johnson.

January 20: Defender Santiago Verginiinabottle signs on loan.

January 21: Goalkeeper Oscar Ustari joins on loan.

January 22: Heaven really is a place on earth. 9,000 Mackems venture down to Manchester for the night of their lives. For 119 minutes, things really can only get better; then - ecstasy. No one will be quite sure what they did for the 90 seconds or so following Phil Bardsley's late equaliser, but any heterosexual man was moved to the very limits of acceptable male-on-male touching when that goal went in. Javier Hernandez's even later goal brought us back down to earth, but that just added to the drama. When Vito Mannone saved that last penalty, the dream was alive and Wembley was in our diaries. The best night of the season? You bet. Que sera sera.

January 23: There was literally no point in any of us going to work today.

January 24: Or today.

January 25: Another cup victory, but a much less exhausting one. Sunderland defeat Kidderminster Harriers 1-0 in the FA Cup fifth round, Charis Mavrias notching the only goal in a devastatingly dull game.

January 28: Stoke City are linked with both Steven Fletcher and Lee Lee Lee Cattermole, Cattermole, Cattermo-oohhh-ole.

January 29: Sunderland defeat Stoke City 1-0. Adam Johnson's goal moves the Black Cats OUT of the bottom three for the first time since the days of Di Canio. *rubs eyes and blinks into the light*

January 30: Mobido Diakite buggers off to Fiorentina. Nacho Nacho man signs for £4m. He will fire us to safety. Alfred N'Diaye, recently returned from Turkey, jets off to Spain and signs for Real Betis on loan.

January 31: Lee Cattermole is in and out more times than the hokey cokey. He eventually stays on Wearside. David Vaughan, already at Nottingham Forest on loan, stays there for good. Duncan Watmore goes to Hibs on loan. Danny Graham, back from Hull City, wanders off to live in Teesside again. Liam Bridcutt finally signs for Sunderland.