The narrative for this fixture probably begins around six months prior – 22nd July 2016 to be precise – when Sam Allardyce resigned from his role as manager of Sunderland and signed a two-year contract to become the new manager of the England national team.
For the first time in many years at Sunderland, there was real hope that under Sam Allardyce we had a platform to build on. Recruitment seemed to have a purpose and achieved tangible results as the club retained its place in the Premier League. However, Roy Hodgson and England had other ideas. A combination of Harry Kane corners and defeat to Iceland meant Sunderland had to, yet again, start from scratch.
Twenty-four hours after Allardyce had signed on the dotted line at the FA, Sunderland chairman Ellis Short announced to the football world that he had captured the man, who he had apparently courted for five years, to become the new manager of Sunderland. That man was David Moyes.
This was his first role in the Premier League since losing his job at Old Trafford, where his position became untenable as Manchester United sat 7th in April 2014. To dip his toe back in the management game, Moyes turned to La Liga and was appointed as manager of Real Sociedad seven months after receiving his P45 from United.
The ex-Everton manager’s stay in Spain lasted a day short of a calendar year, as a poor start to his first full season, he experienced the sack for the second time in the space of 17 months.
Eight months later, Ellis Short finally got his man.
It would take 13 attempts in the Premier League for David Moyes to register a league victory as manager of Sunderland. A trip to Bournemouth on the 5th November finally broke the duck for the season. This came courtesy of a 2-1 victory at Dean Court, sealed for ten-man Sunderland via a Jermain Defoe penalty.
We then won two of the next three, at home against Leicester City and Hull City, and a hint of a flicker of light was said to have been spotted at the end of the tunnel.
The run of one win in nine that followed went some way to dampening any hopes that we had really turned a corner.
On the morning of Saturday 4th February 2017, Sunderland sat rooted to the bottom of the Premier League five points from safety, and three points behind that afternoon’s opponents, Crystal Palace, who were uncomfortably looking over their shoulder in 17th.
Whilst David Moyes was struggling in his new role on Wearside, the man who he had replaced had experienced issues of his own since leaving Sunderland. After allegations of malpractice, Sam Allardyce left England by mutual consent after only two months in the job and in December 2016, became the new manager of Crystal Palace.
To add extra spice and intrigue into the fixture, only a mere five days prior to the fixture, Allardyce had raided his former club securing the signature of Patrick van Aanholt for an initial fee of £9 million, with the potential to rise up to £14 million. David Moyes had also been active in the transfer market in bringing players into the club, with Bryan Oviedo and Darren Gibson signing before the close of the January window.
With nine minutes gone, Sunderland took a surprising lead in South London. It would come via a goal that had all the hallmarks of a goal scored by a Sam Allardyce side. A free-kick mid-way inside Palace’s half was thrown deep to the back post where Kone won the first header that Hennessey managed to spill back towards the Ivory Coast defender, and while lying on the ground Kone managed to volley the ball home into the far corner.
A nervy first-half ensued while Moyes’ side held a slender lead, but just before half-time, Didier Ndong showed a glimpse of why Sunderland had invested £13.6 million to acquire his service from Lorient that summer. The then 22-year-old strode forward with the ball after intercepting a loose pass by Joe Ledley, and with his left-foot stroked the ball into the corner of the net to Wayne Hennessey’s left from 25 yards.
It was party time in the away end.
If going two goals up got the blood pumping, then what happened in first-half injury time nearly blew our minds.
In the first minute of added-on time, Adnan Januzaj on the left held onto the ball and timed his pass perfectly to Defoe just inside the box on the left-hand side. After a first touch that oozed class, the England international struck it into the far corner of the net with his left foot.
Pandemonium broke out in the away end, and as Palace kicked off and gave the ball away again thirty seconds later, there was still a mass of bodies untangling themselves in disbelief that Sunderland had taken a three-goal lead – with a whole half of the game remaining.
Within ten seconds of gaining possession again from the Palace kick-off, the ball was again at Defoe’s feet, this time near the corner of the six-yard box on the right-hand side of the Crystal Palace goal. He spun James Tomkins with ease, and within three touches dispatched it neatly into the far corner for his second of the game and Sunderland’s fourth.
The boos rang around Selhurst Park. They could just be heard over the away fans starting the party. The second half was a blur and thankfully inconsequential. After six months of misery, we had something to shout about. We had demolished a relegation rival away from home with a comprehensive performance, and there was once again hope.
Other results in the Premier League that afternoon had also gone our way and we were now, somehow, inexplicably, on the same points as Palace and only two points from safety.
What a day, and what a party.
Sunderland gained only eight more points that season, from a total of 45 on offer after that victory at Selhurst Park, and finished 16 points adrift of safety.
And oh, erm... Sam Allardyce steered Crystal Palace to a 14th place finish, on 41 points.
Great day though.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Ward, van Aanholt, Dann, Tomkins, Delaney (Townsend), Zaha, McArthur (Remy), Benteke, Cabaye (Ledley), Puncheon Substitutes not used: Speroni, Fryers, Sakho, Flamini
Sunderland: Mannone, Jones, Kone, O’Shea (Lescott), Denayer, Oviedo, Larsson, Ndong, Rodwell (Gibson), Januzaj (Pienaar), Defoe Substitutes not used: Mika, Manquillo, Khazri, Borini