After Simon Grayson’s nightmarish spell in charge at Sunderland came to an abrupt Halloween end minutes after a 3-3 draw with Phil Parkinson’s Bolton, Sunderland set about in search of a replacement.
Sitting bottom of the championship with only one win, an owner who’d patently lost interest and a squad containing the likes of Jason Steele, Marc Wilson and James Vaughan... you couldn’t blame would-be contenders to think twice about taking over at the Stadium of Light.
However, we’d only just been relegated from the Premier League and, although we were anchored to the foot of the table there were still 31 games of the season left to play.
Survive this season – a task which seemed eminently doable – and rebuild the following campaign. Put into that context, the appeal began to grow.
A number of names were linked with the job – Kevin Phillips (who was coaching at Derby at the time) was rumoured to be in contention, as was current club captain John O’Shea.
Peter Reid, Roy Keane, Sam Allardyce, Kevin Ball were all linked too, as was a former Sunderland player – Paul Heckingbottom – who was going well at Barnsley, ex-Boro boss Aitor Karanka, and another former Sunderland player, Ally McCoist, who had worked with CEO Martin Bain at Rangers.
Coaches Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinley took temporary charge – the latter quitting after a game to join former boss David Moyes at West Ham – and by the time Stockdale took sole control of his second game, at the Stadium of Light against Millwall, one half of the new managerial duo was in the stands.
Kit Symons, the former Wales defender, was watching on as Robbin Ruiter let in not one but two calamitous goals in quick succession. The main man, Chris Coleman (who’d resigned from the Wales job to take the vacant position at the Stadium of Light, after capturing the attention of many by guiding Wales to the semis of Euro 16) was absent due to a prior commitment.
He was turning on the Christmas lights. In Newport.
It was a significant coup to land Coleman, who’d worked wonders with Wales it seemed that maybe, after all, Ellis Short was prepared to back the club to avoid relegation. Coleman had charisma in bucketloads, his career trajectory was on the up, and seemed the right man to give the place the confidence boost after the confidence draining tenure of David Moyes and the mixed metaphors of Simon Grayson.
Upon his appointment, Coleman said:
It’s an honour to be appointed the manager of Sunderland AFC and I’m over the moon that the club believes I am the right man.
The club worked incredibly hard to make sure we were a good fit and to show me the potential that can be achieved here.”
I believe that every person at this football club, every player and every supporter has a part to play in getting us back to where we belong.
If you’re committed you’re in, if not you’re out. You can’t pretend at it. What we don’t need are any shrinking violets.
We will find out who is going to be coming along on this next chapter pretty quickly I think. Whoever is not will need to go and play football somewhere else.
If this challenge is too big for them then they need to move on.
Nothing good ever came from a comfort zone and I know I’m in no comfort zone at Sunderland.
Someone will turn this club around, whether it is me or the next one. I want that to be me, of course.
You can go through a career as a manager and never manage a big club. I always wanted that experience and here I am. We are bottom of the league, that’s reality. It’s still a big club, still Sunderland.
It is going to be a big challenge. I am going to need all the supporters, players, staff, everybody to come with me on this.
Sooner or later it will start turning. Then it is such a big club that when we gather momentum, it’s hard to stop.
It was, indeed, hard to stop – but as always there was a glimmer of initial hope, as after defeat away at Aston Villa, Coleman steered the team to only their second win in 19 games with a 2-1 win at Burton Albion.
A home defeat to Reading – which could be excused to some extent due to Callum McManaman’s ridiculous sending off just on half time when, instead of putting us 1-0 up, he was sent off for deliberate handball – was followed by a draw away at eventual Champions Wolves and a home win over Fulham.
Things were looking up – a 3-0 away defeat to Boxing Day was followed by a 1-0 away win at Forest, and we were out of the relegation zone – however, Sunderland won only two of the next 20 league games for which Coleman was in charge; a home win against Hull and a ridiculous 4-1 away win at Derby.
Coleman was completely hamstrung by Ellis Short – with no budget to improve the squad and having lost loanee top scorer Lewis Grabban he was left scrambling about for loans, but in reality his signings only served to weaken the side.
Hello Lee Camp, Jake Clarke Salter and Ashley Fletcher.
As we became anchored to the foot of the Championship table, the team turned in some atrocious performances, but curiously Coleman never really got a great deal of criticism. People appreciated the enormity of the task he faced, and he had all of the characteristics of the stereotypical ‘Sunderland manager who succeeds’ – he talked the club up, he was proud to be here, he had an underlying arrogance and he’d experienced success at a higher level than SAFC – all of which combine to buy managers a decent amount of time.
Unfortunately, the reality was the team he put together for the second half of the season was turgid – and the results they got were worse – and relegation came as an inevitability.
It still came as a surprise when, in the lead-up to the season’s final game – after relegation had been confirmed – Coleman was sacked. It coincided with new owners being announced, and Coleman’s departure was presumably a straightforward cost-cutting measure.
Coleman was determined to stay and get us back up, but wasn’t given the opportunity and – bar a short spell in China – he’s stayed out of football management ever since.
In hindsight, it might have been better if he had stayed. He’s one of those managers who you feel, in the right circumstances, would have been perfect for Sunderland.