Finally, we had landed our man. Many Sunderland supporters had wanted Martin O’Neill at the club ever since the sacking of Peter Reid many years beforehand. He had a reputation of playing quick, counter attacking football and getting the best out of average players. Throw in his claims of being a boyhood Sunderland fan and his touchline antics and it appeared to be a match made in heaven.
As Sunderland fans we should know that we aren’t allowed nice things. After initial good results, things turned sour pretty quickly. Despite being in the top ten for a period of the season and reaching the FA cup quarter final, the 2011/12 season petered out in a pretty dour fashion which carried over into the following season. O’Neill persisted with trying to play his usual brand of football with no pace in the side which resulted in drab performances where crossing the halfway line was seemingly frowned upon.
Before things went sour with O'Neill one of Sunderland's brightest performances came away at Manchester City in early 2012.
Going into the game few gave Sunderland much hope - as well as suffering a crushing FA quarter final defeat at the hands of David Moyes’ Everton, we’d also endured disappointing away defeats at West Brom and Blackburn.
But in true Sunderland style, just when you least expected it they decided to draw you in and make you believe again.
After a bright start we took the lead on the half hour mark when Seb Larsson stroked the ball into the corner of Joe Hart’s net from just outside the area.
Naturally, this joy was short lived as Manchester City were handed a questionable penalty as Eden Dzeko went down in the area. The subsequent Sunderland protests landed the club an FA charge for failing to control their players. Mario Ballotelli converted the resulting spot kick as normal service was resumed for the champions elect - or was it?
As a number of Sunderland fans were probably queuing for a half time pint, Stephane Sessengnon picked up the ball deep inside the City half and stood up an inviting cross which was headed home by Nickalas Bendtner.
Just ten minutes into the second half, the travelling red and white army were in raptures as Bendtner centred for Larsson to finish from close range to put the visitors 3-1 up.
This was remarkable enough in itself, but this was nothing compared to what we were all treated to minutes later. Matthew Kilgallon contributed little in a Sunderland shirt, but in one moment he cemented himself into our memories. Having received the ball near the by-line he outrageously performed a Rabona which had many at the match wondering if they’d had too much to drink. Although this piece of skill ultimately produced nothing it optimised the confidence we were playing with.
Sadly, as I said earlier we aren’t allowed nice things and late goals from Mario Ballotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov secured what proved to be a vital point for Manchester City.
Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, this game was probably about as good as it ever got under O’Neill. As for City, the draw proved invaluable as they went on to win the title on goal difference. If Sunderland had just held out for five more minutes the title may well have gone to the red half of Manchester and their supporters wouldn’t still be having daily Twitter meltdowns over Sunderland fans enjoying themselves by doing a backwards dance.
Manchester City: Hart, Richards (Johnson - 46), Kompany, Kolarov, K Toure, Milner (Pizarro - 81), Silva (Tevez - 58), De Jong ,Y Toure, Dzeko, Balotelli.
Subs (not used): Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Barry.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon (Kyrgiakos - 81), Cattermole (Vaughan - 90), Larsson, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner.
Subs (not used): Westwood, Richardson, Vaughan, Meyler, Campbell, Ji Dong-Won.
Referee: Phil Dowd