If you take a look back almost exactly one year I would bet that all of us were probably more in agreement over our direction than we had been in years. Dick Advocaat had just steered us to wins over Southampton, Newcastle and Everton and kept our heads above water, as our buddy Steve Bruce tumbled down a division at the expense of ourselves and Newcastle United.
Talk of Advocaat coming back had died down just as he made a crazy u-turn on his decision, and his missus told him it was alreet for him to come back. We all cried metaphorical tears - the man we had all taken to, and him to us, came back on a one-year-contract. The talk of big name signings were rife as we all knew Big Dick had requested a rather hefty transfer kitty to reshape the squad to even consider staying and delaying his retirement. Names such as Klaas Jan Huntelaar were mooted by the press as serious links.
The fans even made a fund to buy flowers for Mrs Advocaat, and (forgive the pun) everything was relatively rosy in the garden of Wearside. Most of us had even championed the permanent signing of Seb Coates, after he turned in a Premier League level set of performances under Dick - he seemed an obvious snip at two million pounds. Adam Matthews arrived for a relatively small fee, and all the talk up here in Glasgow (where I live for those who don’t know) was he would be a good signing and that he was man of the match in Celtic’s famous win over Barcelona, where he marked none other than Lionel Messi out of the game. Troubled by personal issues, the undoubtedly talented Yann M’Vila also moved in on loan and was seem as a gamble that could pay off handsomely (and did), DeAndre Yedlin was plucked from Tottenham Hotspur as a raw talent with sheer pace to burn on loan, injury-hit Younes Kaboul was brought in to further strengthen the defence, and alleged Advocaat favourite Ola Toivonen was signed on loan as we frantically searched for YouTube videos of him and fellow new boy Jeremain Lens linking up the way producer Timberland used to in 2005 with Justin Timberlake. Beautifully.
Sadly, real money was only really spent on Lens and Fabio Borini, as stories came out about the frustration to bring in any sort of decent level of quality. Tales of moves for Gini Wijnaldjum were probably far from the mark (and were more or less confirmed too), but as Newcastle spend wildly on a host of foreign talent, and relegation-fodder like Leicester picked up players like Gokhan Inler, we seemed to be linked with exciting attacking midfielders such as Jonathan de Guzman, but were never able to get them over the line.
A lot of that probably relied on the fact that our Director of Football Lee Congerton failed to offload expensive flops like Danny Graham, Santiago Vergini and Liam Bridcutt (during the writing of this I also just remembered Will Buckley... fuck me, why is he even here?). Add into that, we also still had the Adam Johnson case hanging over our heads, unsure as to when he would be sentenced, if at all, and whether we would need a new winger. A poor pre-season had already sent some jitters to our more over-reactive fans, as we lost at Doncaster, Sacramento Republic and Pachuca. A quality goal from new boy Lens at Hannover seemed to stem the tide of worry though, but many still questioned the pre-season schedule of travelling all the way to America and Canada straight away, before jetting off to Germany for one single game.
The opening to the season was as straight forward as you can imagine - an away game at relegation favourites Leicester, before playing another favourite to go down in Norwich at home before a game at home to the dangerous but ordinary Swansea - most fans hoped for at least five points. Within thirty-five minutes of the Leicester game, all of our pre-season hope had turned to utter mush, as eventual league Champions Leicester cruised into a Riyad Mahrez inspired 3-0 lead, and the pre-season worriers said "I told you so", the evidence on show clearly proving them right.
A week later and an organised but distinctly standard Norwich side turned us over in similar fashion without even breaking a sweat. Suddenly there was panic. We gained two spirited points from home games against Swansea and away to Aston Villa from losing positions, before putting in our best performance that season under Advocaat's short reign away at Tottenham. A Ryan Mason goal gave the Lads an unlucky 0-1 reverse, and we were sat glued to the bottom of the table.
Advocaat never really recovered from that as we sleep walked to defeats at Bournemouth and Manchester United, before massive rumours of Dick leaving came out before our home game against in-form West Ham, where we typically put in one of the best performances I’ve seen from a Sunderland side in years in that opening forty-five minutes. Lens’ chip for our second is still frankly one of my favourite Sunderland goals ever - it was a goal that drew Advocaat to weep, with us all asking if they were tears of sadness or sheer anger that the useless bastards had managed to show something just as he was about to bugger off.
Alas, the moral of the story is this - what we seem to have right now looks far better than what we had last year.
Sam’s signings in January leave us with massive hope that he can bring in the required quality and the right fit for the team’s style that he wants us to play. Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri have been a complete revelation and one can only hope that Sam's summer transfer business is anything like the success we saw in the winter.
That said, this is Sunderland AFC after all, and I won't be holding my breath just yet. I guess we just have to see what happens!