On this day in 2014, Sunderland fell to their heaviest reverse in 32 years, equalling the-then Premier League record of the heaviest margin of defeat as we were walloped 8-0 by Ronald Koeman’s Southampton side.
After the euphoria of the ‘Great Escape’, which had followed the enthralling cup run, we’d ended the previous season with immense optimism.
Of course, in typical fashion, the new dawn heralded by this exciting Poyet team had the word ‘False’ stamped on it – but it wasn’t until this Southampton game that anyone had spotted it.
To be fair to Poyet, he might had. Frustrated by the club’s failure to keep hold of the likes of Ki, Alonso and Borini, who’d all been critical components in the ‘success’ of the season before, he’d been lumbered with inadequate replacements.
The £10m spent on Jack Rodwell, for example, could have bought Alonso two or three times over.
Rodwell was one of a flurry of new signings - van Aanholt, Gomez and Buckley were joined before the transfer deadline by Ricky Alvarez – and yet, on the field, we were looking OK. Not brilliant by any stretch, but OK. We looked defensively resolute and just needed a little bit extra in the attacking third – which it was hoped Alvarez would bring.
Going into the game at St Mary’s we had only lost one of the opening seven fixtures – a 1-0 reverse at QPR – drawing five and winning one.
In those seven games, we’d conceded only seven goals and the eight points we’d accumulated had us sitting in eleventh place.
Heading into the Southampton game, Saint’s manager Koeman was expecting a very tough game.
Sunderland lined up: Mannone, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, van Aanholt; Buckley, Larsson, Cattermole, Gomez; Wickham, Fletcher.
And we all know how it went.
Sunderland actually started the brighter of the teams – Wickham heading Gomez’s free kick just over the bar, but then Santiago Vergini scored one of the best own goals you’ll ever see after just 12 minutes...
...which set the tone for the whole afternoon.
Vergini lost Steven Davis minutes later to set up Pelle for a tap in, and eight minuted before half time Jack Cork had added a third.
In between the second and third goal, Larsson’s free kick was acrobatically kept out by Forster, while Sunderland should have had a penalty and Southampton down to ten men after Fletcher, clean through on goal, was clearly brought down by the Saints’ keeper.
“If the referee did his job, it’s a penalty and a red card – and maybe 2-1. Then we’re are talking about a different game.”
But we’re not.
There’s rarely any coming back from a 3-0 half time deficit, but rarely does a team self combust as much as Sunderland did in that second 45. Usually there’s a mantra of ‘winning the second half’... but not Sunderland.
Whether Poyet’s frustration emanating from the lack of backing he’d personally received in the transfer market boiled over, whether he was bewildered by the first half performance he’d witnessed, we’ll never truly know.
But somehow the second half became even worse.
Still 3-0 down entering the final 27 minutes, we went four behind when Bridcutt netted an OG, and five down when Pelle grabbed his second six minutes after that, Mannone failing to keep the ball out of the net.
Tadic and Wanayama added two in two minutes on 78 and 79 before, fittingly, the afternoon was wrapped up with a third own goal, this time van Aanholt the culprit.
In the aftermath of the game, a stunned Poyet told reporters:
“Even if you watch Vergini’s own goal 20 times you don’t know how it can happen. Then we clear the ball and it hits somebody and it’s 2-0. Then you’re thinking it’s not going to be our day.
“And then the penalty, where if the ref did his job, it’s a penalty and a red card and maybe 2-1 and then we’re talking about a different game.
“After that, I can’t explain what happened. I will let the players explain to you, maybe they will have better words. I don’t.”
Mannone – always a player with fragile confidence – kept his place for the following game, a 2-0 defeat at home to former club Arsenal, but was replaced the following week by Pantilimon, as we went on a mini revival, losing only one of the next eight, culminating in a 1-0 win over Newcastle before Christmas. In those eight games we’d conceded just seven goals, and four of them against Manchester City.
The Southampton game was a complete anomaly in Sunderland’s season and Poyet’s time as manager, but it always seemed to hang heavily over him and, in my mind at least, marked the beginning of the end for his spell in charge at the Stadium of Light.