4. Martin O’Neill
W/21 D/20 L/25 F/76 A/82 - Win %: 31.82
In at number four is a man who we all expected to be the ideal fit for the club - sadly, it was one of the biggest anticlimaxes in our history.
A Sunderland fan who was internationally renowned as a manager and had won silverware with the likes of Celtic and Leicester, O’Neill’s opening three months of his tenure were everything we hoped for and more.
He developed James McClean into one of the most exciting wingers in the Premier League, we won countless games in the last minute and he had us scoring screamers weekly. However, rather expectantly that didn’t last over a sustained period and, once normally set in, so did the terrible football and bizarre signings.
His football was one dimensional and we looked like a team stuck in a timewarp with the likes of Wayne Bridge, Louis Saha and James McFadden joining the club, whilst he also ludicrously overpaid with the £12m signing of Steven Fletcher. He was also responsible for Kader Mangane.
Under the reign of Short, O’Neill actually had the best win ratio but, in truth, take out that impressive three month period and the Irishman had a pretty poor record on Wearside.
3. Steve Bruce
W/29 D/28 L/41 F/122 A/135 - Win %: 29.59
Admittedly, he brought the best position we ever had in our ten year stay in the top tier - although he doesn’t like to mention it much. He also brought in the likes of Darren Bent and Simon Mignolet, whilst blooding current Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson into the first team. He pulled off some fantastic victories against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal and with his team, he genuinely brought back the hope of Europe at one point - so why third?
There’s a thought process that in life, everything is a struggle, and it’s deciding whether that struggle is worth the end result.
Want a six pack? You gotta go through the pain of the gym. Wanna be a rock star? Better practice weekly for years buddy! This is exactly how I look at the Steve Bruce reign.
Those long win-less runs, bottling it in every derby - the flaws that came with every Bruce season. Was it worth the struggle? No, not even slightly - because finishing tenth (and only be fluke to be bluntly honest) brings you nothing to celebrate and in the end getting walloped off the Mags and not winning for three months just to occasionally beat a few big teams?
That juice just ain’t worth the squeeze, that’s for sure.
2. Gus Poyet
W/23 D/22 L/30 F/80 A/104 - Win %: 30.67
The 8-0 at Southampton, that weakened team at Hull and the open letter - there was plenty of bad during the reign of the Uruguayan, yet many Lads fans still have a soft spot for Gustavo.
With Poyet it seemed that, for the first time in years, his style of play had some sort of identity and idea. Sure, sometimes it got boring, but at least it was a plan. He encouraged the players to express themselves and gave them the freedom to pass the ball rather than aimlessly lump it. Bringing out the best in Borini, Ki and Connor Wickham, the former Brighton manager united us for a brief spell.
That sort of identity and plan gave the fanbase a belief in something, a man with character and a plan of how to execute in on the pitch helped get us to Wembley and perform one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history. Fabio Borini hitting the bar at Old Trafford following 32 consecutive passes, or the way we annihilated Newcastle at St. James in February 2014 is the perfect example of what Gus Poyet brought to Sunderland.
Like many managers in this list though, it went sour. An 8-0 defeat making him ultra defensive, signing duds like Liam Bridcutt and Santiago Vergini combined with Lee Congerton’s mainly horrific spell effectively killed the positivity that Poyet brought to the club.
Overall though, Gustavo will be remembered fondly.
1. Sam Allardyce
W/9 D/9 L/13 F/41 A/47 - Win %: 29.03
With every manager on the list there’s been mostly negatives mixed with positives. But, when it comes to Sam, once he got to January and was allowed to build his own squad there was very little to complain about.
Remember that analogy I used up above, about the juice being worth the squeeze and the idea that everything in struggle, but necessary if the end result was worth it? Well that one was most definitely worth it!
The alleged long ball tactics and the bedding in period that saw Billy Jones getting tortured at centre half down at Goodison Park was well worth the end result - not just escaping relegation, not just relegating our nearest rivals, but having a team we had genuine faith and pride in.
People often forget that Jermain Defoe wasn’t as lethal until Sam came in, and Patrick van Aanholt went from being the most horrendous left back in the league to our secret weapon. He managed to actually get a central-defensive pairing that didn’t include John O’Shea and of course, he brought in Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri who totally molded the team into genuinely one of the better sides in the league.
Of course, here at Sunderland, we can’t have nice things - it’s dangerous for us and plunges into the unknown. After six months of hope we had something to build on, but England lost to Iceland and that was that.