In Fourth Place...
Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United, 13th February (2%)
You could argue that this was the game where Sunderland's survival push really began. January had brought some decent results after wins over Aston Villa and Swansea, and it looked like the club had done some good business in the window. In the previous game, The Lads fought back from 2-0 down at Anfield to rescue a late point, so the confidence was starting to emerge on the pitch.
In the aforementioned transfer window, Lamine Kone was brought in to add some steel in defence, Wahbi Khazri for added attacking flair and Jan Kirchhoff was to be our midfield marshal. All three started in the win over United and while Kirchhoff ended up being forced off through injury, Khazri and Kone stole the show.
After just three minutes, a cross from a Khazri free kick evaded everyone and nestled in the bottom corner. It was an early kick off but that woke up the Stadium of Light and the atmosphere stayed positive, even when Anthony Martial drew United level just six minutes before half time.
With less than ten minutes to go, it would be another Khazri set piece that put Sunderland back in front, his looping corner being headed towards goal by Kone. An attempted clearance may have meant it was technically a David De Gea own goal but that wouldn't stop the South Stand bursting into "Ole Ole Ole Ole, Kone Kone." Hopefully we see similar joyous scenes from the towering Ivorian in 2017.
In Third Place...
Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City, 3rd December (3%)
The only game from the 2016/2017 season to make it into the nominations but it's certainly a deserved entrant.
Despite Leicester's struggles, this would be a good test for David Moyes' Sunderland. Many said the win over Bournemouth was lucky and beating Hull at home was the minimum any side should be achieving this season, so beat the current champions and you might just be onto something.
Not only did Sunderland beat Leicester, a 2-1 scoreline flattered the Foxes.
From the first whistle, Moyes' men were looking to play on the front foot and immediately took the game to Leicester. There was a plethora of chances in the first half, as Victor Anichebe had an effort deflected over the bar, Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore saw shots blocked inside the box and Defoe again went close when his first touch let him down in a good area.
Undeterred, the lads kept at it and half time substitutes Jan Kirchhoff and Sebastian Larsson combined to give The Lads the lead. Larsson's corner from the right was met by Kirchhoff who expertly sent the ball in via Robert Huth's face. Exactly what he meant to do. A second was added by Defoe, showing great instinct to latch onto Watmore's blocked shot.
It wouldn't be Sunderland without some late nerves though. Shinji Okazaki brought the visitors back into the game in the final ten minutes and Jordan Pickford had to be sharp to deny Wes Morgan in stoppage time.
Holding on to claim three points capped off a fine team performance and Sunderland had (hopefully) found a formula for the rest of the season.
In Second Place...
Sunderland 3-0 Everton, 11th May (28%)
This was a night of sheer joy - a crescendo on what had been a genuinely entertaining second half of the season. Previous survivals by Sunderland may have been flukes but the one in 15/16 was far from it, evidenced by only losing four games in the latter half and turning over Everton in style.
The atmosphere at the SoL that night was electric and confident. It was a balmy night, with everyone decked in red and white and the humid air added to the stormy atmosphere. Whenever there's a sense of occasion, Sunderland usually let you down but this was a game they never looked like losing.
A tame Patrick van Aanholt free kick caught out Joel Robles and Sunderland were on their way to the sweetest of escapes. Barely seconds after Van Aanholt had wrestled himself out of Sam Allardyce's embrace, it was 2-0 - a wickedly-whipped Wahbi Khazri corner was only half cleared by the Everton rearguard and it allowed Yann M'Vila (RIP) to cushion a header back into the danger zone. The velocity generated by Lamine Kone's thighs almost ripped the net and killed whoever was unfortunate to get in the way off the ball. The crowd did indeed go wild.
Half time pints were toasting survival because not even Sunderland could mess this up. Any nerves were put to rest when another Khazri corner almost went straight in and was parried to Kone, who again almost ruptured both net and skulls. Time to sit back, relax and enjoy the game. Safe in the knowledge that Sam Allardyce was about to channel his inner Hulk Hogan.
We also relegated the mags. Fun.
And The Winner Is...
Sunderland 3-2 Chelsea, 7th May (67%)
Despite recent struggles, we've still had some great memories and moments over the past few seasons. There was a cup final, a few derby wins and our annual escapes.
Most of the defining moments in such games came away from home though. A lot of the home games during these periods have been depressing affairs which have underlined the need to turn things around, so it was hugely satisfying to give The Stadium of Light crowd a performance to be proud of, against one of the leagues big boys, in a thoroughly entertaining contest.
Before taking on Chelsea at the SoL, it was still very much uncertain as to whether Sunderland would pull off another Houdini act. Earlier that day, Norwich City had lost at home to Manchester United, all but confirming an instant return to the Championship. With Newcastle away to already relegated Aston Villa, Sunderland fans knew they had to at least get something from a Chelsea side with nothing left to play for. Since most had already accepted the mags would take all three points at Villa Park, the thinking was that a draw against Chelsea would at least keep The Lads three points behind our neighbours, with a game in hand.
When Diego Costa gave the visitors the lead after only 14 minutes, it felt like another gloomy day was on the cards. The collective red and white heads didn't drop though, as this was a team with renewed confidence. A team that had only lost four games since the turn of the year and they weren't about to let a team whose season had ended at Christmas make that five. You need quality when you're up against it and a stunning Wahbi Khazri volley provided a blinding flash of it to make it 1-1 with less than five minutes left of the first half. Great! Let's keep things tight and get to half time.
Never ones to make things straight forward, Sunderland handed Chelsea their lead back like a diligent butler handing his master a cigarette and lighting it for him. The defense parted and Nemanja Matic slotted the ball through Vito Mannone's legs to ensure Chelsea would be leading at the break. Frustration was high at half time, with most resigned to the fact we wouldn't come back from behind for a second time. When do we ever do that?
During the second half, every other supporter was refreshing their smart phone to see if there was any news from the West Midlands. No news was definitely good news, with Newcastle still being held by Villa and it only served to ramp up the atmosphere on Wearside, as Sunderland pushed on in search of an equaliser. Always a man for the big occasion, Fabio Borini managed to drill a shot through Thibaut Courtois, after Patrick van Aanholt found him in space on the edge of the penalty area.
Borini's celebration showed the usual passion but there was also a visible determination. The players allowed themselves a brief moment of celebration but were quick to reorganise and go on the hunt for a winner. The supporters recognised the enthusiasm and jubilation in the stands quickly turned to roars of encouragement. Three minutes later, with adrenaline still coursing through the stands, Sunderland were ahead.
After losing possession from their own throw in, DeAndre Yedlin quickly won the ball back and set himself off down the right flank. A quick look up revealed Jermain Defoe just halting his run on the edge of the box and Yedlin knew where to put the ball. A deflection on the way through only set it up kindly for Defoe, who brought it under control and buried his shot into the bottom corner. Cue - scenes.
The stadium exploded. Defoe whipped his shirt off. Everyone lost their minds. It was ecstasy. We were losing less than five minutes ago, now we're on the cusp of safety! So many men clad in red and white ran towards Defoe, it looked like an ex-players reunion was taking place in the North West Corner. The noise was deafening and so loud that it was probably heard all the way in Birmingham. All we had to do now was hold on. Just hold on!
Sometimes you need a sign to be delivered to know it's your day. A red card for John Terry gave us a signal that maybe it would be. With nerves starting to creep in, it was the lift the fans needed to keep behind the team. Vito Mannone made some excellent saves to keep The Lads in front and the final whistle sounded with him clutching the ball like it was his baby, after Bertrand Traore had a shot deflected towards him.
The news came in that it had ended 0-0 between Aston Villa and Newcastle, meaning a fantastically memorable match had put us one win away from completing the job. It could have been a day filled with fear and loathing but supporters and players combined to create a special atmosphere and remind us all why we do it. When things are going badly, remember this game.