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Sunderland - What A Difference A Year Makes

The last twelve months produced probably the most turbulent period in recent times at Sunderland AFC. Here we take a look back through the starting eleven that lined up for the opening day defeat to Fulham and see how they each fared as the campaign wore on.

Chris Brunskill

The summer of 2013 was full of upheaval with myriad new signings making their way into the club during a spell of great uncertainty. Only three of the starting line-up from last season's opening game appear to be in with a realistic shout of turning out this Saturday for Sunderland at West Brom, so I took it upon myself to look back on the team selected that day to review their individual campaigns and where they are now.

Kieren Westwood: Thought he'd finally claimed the number one spot at Sunderland following Simon Mignolet's departure, but a run of 10 appearances was halted by a severe shoulder injury. Didn't exude confidence between the sticks before the injury problem, letting in 22 goals during those 10 outings. Mannone took up the reigns and Westwood failed to reappear. Recently left for Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer.

Ondrej Celustka: Czech right-back on loan from Trabzonspor who looked decent defensively, but offered little going forward. Became a peripheral figure under Gus Poyet by playing second fiddle to Bardsley and then Vergini. Didn't do enough to secure a permanent move, though his spell at Sunderland coincided with a first international cap.

John O'Shea: Fell foul of Paolo Di Canio's public criticism in the early part of the campaign, but steadily improved under Poyet while captaining the side to eventual safety. Much-improved second half of the season alongside long-time comrade Wes Brown in central defence. As important off-field for the togetherness of the squad as on it.

Valentin Roberge: Easily beaten in the air for Fulham's smash-and-grab winner on the opening day of last term and his campaign didn't really get any better. Competent on the ball, but not used to the physicality of English football, Roberge barely featured and looked on his way out. However, he seems reinvigorated and is ready to ignore overtures from France and Spain.

Jack Colback: Filled in at left-back prior to the eventual loan signing of Alonso. Put in several strong displays after shifting into the middle of the park. Chose to run down his contract and sign for arch-rivals Newcastle United at the season's end, which left many fans fuming. Ultimately, his tendency to play sideways won't be a big miss.

Adam Johnson: Enigmatic winger who started slowly, only to appear rejuvenated throughout the month of January when winning the Premier League player of the month award. Johnson remained a crucial player in the club's fight to stay up and scored some important goals along the way. Will be expected to produce even more this upcoming season.

Seb Larsson: Steady in a central midfield role that doesn't entirely suit him, the Swede managed 31 league appearances but only a solitary goal. Known for taking a dangerous free-kick, Larsson was decidedly off-colour with his set-piece routines. However, did well during the late surge towards the end of last season in order to earn a new 3-year deal.

Cabral: Joined from perennial European competitors Basel and made an impressive debut against Fulham. Inexplicably found himself out of favour soon after, with a loan switch to Genoa taking him away from his Sunderland nightmare. Back at the club, but highly unlikely to force his way back into contention.

Emanuele Giaccherini: Fresh from starring at the Confederations Cup, Giaccherini was hailed as a potential star but faded into the background for large periods. Tagged a luxury player and that lack of action culminated in his omission from Italy's World Cup plans. However, two vital assists at the Etihad in April showcased his class and he'll hope for much better from his second year on Wearside.

Stephane Sessegnon: Sess would produce a sublime performance one week and be utterly anonymous the next. No doubting his talent, but that constant fluctuation led to a hasty departure for West Bromwich Albion before the transfer window slammed shut. A series of managers failed to get the best out of the tricky forward, with perhaps his finest run of form coming during a three-month spell under Martin O'Neill. The Benin international didn't impress at The Hawthorns either and finds himself at a crossroads.

Jozy Altidore: Banged goals in for fun when leading the line at Dutch side Alkmaar, but despite plenty of opportunities to prove his worth the American ended up with just two strikes to his name in all competitions. A man of his immense physical presence should be capable of bossing opposing defenders, but it was often the other way around. He faces a fight to get into the team and must step up his game considerably.

So, there you have it; that was the year that was. What a difference a year makes! Let's hope that each and every player who steps over that white line on Saturday enjoys a hugely successful (and considerably less taxing) season this time around!

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