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Turning Points: From July To January

Guest writer Michael Bowers picks out the key moments that defined Sunderland's season, today looking at the period between July of last year and January.

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Sunderland 1-3 Norwich – August 15, 2015

For me, the first of many turning points was the home game with Norwich - I’m sure I’m not the only one who was left outraged by this result. Not only did Norwich beat us at a place where we should be getting positive results, but they made us look like a Sunday League team in the process.

We were outplayed, outfought and outclassed by a team who were newly-promoted. With all due respect to Norwich, and they fully deserved the win that day, but I felt if Sunderland had put in any sort of effort or at least proper application into that game, I doubt we’d have lost it.

After this result I felt we were in for another season of struggle. I also felt Norwich would be a team we’d be competing with to stay up and they just got a three point edge over us. For myself this was the single darkest moment of the season, despite much competition for that accolade.

Sunderland 2-2 West Ham – October 3, 2015

Coincidentally Dick Advocaat’s first game was against West Ham, then-managed by Sam Allardyce, and the high-flying Hammers turned out to be his final opponents before moving on. This was by some comfortably Sunderland’s best performance of the season under Advocaat.

West Ham, who won at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City to form a 100% record on the road at the time, were blown away as we showed what I believed all along; that we were capable of matching a quality side when they put their minds to it.

This match was in my opinion a representation of the last three seasons prior to this one. It starts out with a lot of promise having stayed up the previous season and the signs early on are good. But then it eventually goes all pear-shaped and we end up back where we started.

After resigning not long after this game, Advocaat came out and said something along the lines of the squad isn’t good enough to stay up. Everything appeared to be an absolute mess. Enter Big Sam…

Sam Allardyce appointed Sunderland manager – October 9, 2015

Once Advocaat left, this was the man I wanted straight away. People were keen to dismiss his style of football but right then Sunderland needed someone to steady a sinking ship.

There was now a sense of hope around the Stadium of Light that we could pull it off again. There was also the small matter of Allardyce being the fourth manager to face Newcastle in his second game in charge, too.

Sunderland 3-0 Newcastle – October 25, 2015

Allardyce also, thankfully, followed Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Advocaat in winning the derby in his second game in charge, despite losing at West Brom the week before.

We played very poorly, let’s be honest, but it’s safe to say we didn’t care. This was a turning point because it was our first win of the season and Newcastle were one of the teams around us consistently this season. It was too familiar of 13-14, where we beat Newcastle at the end of October and that win finally kick-started our season. We obviously all hoped we could do that again here.

As the old saying goes, you have to beat the teams around you if you’re to stay up. We beat Newcastle at home to make it six-in-a-row but time would tell if we could beat them at their place.

Sunderland 2-0 Stoke – November 28, 2015

After a losing to Everton and Southampton, Sunderland followed up a solid 1-0 win at in-form Crystal Palace with a deserved victory over Stoke City at the Stadium of Light.

This was significant because it lifted us out of the bottom three and if I remember correctly, I think Allardyce said he wouldn’t be relying on the January transfer window so much. With Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in four of the next five games through, we would find out if his mood would still be the same at the end of 2015.

December 2015

We lost every game in December.

We more than matched Arsenal and Liverpool, where I felt we should have got a result in both of them. Chelsea we played at the wrong time after they sacked Jose Mourinho (really Chelsea, it HAD to be before this game) and Man City swept us aside. Even though I wasn’t happy with the performances, you’d expect to lose both games.

The major disappointment for me was Watford. That was the game I looked at and said we must beat them. It was a winnable fixture, especially at home. You could argue we were unlucky to lose it but we seemed to develop a habit of giving teams head starts early on in the season. It cost us again.

Allardyce now admitted the January transfer window would be crucial for Sunderland. If we had done remotely well in December, would we have signed players in key areas?

This month was crucial because it highlighted the need for January signings and desperately at that.

Part two will come later in the week - keep your eyes peeled.