Who can remember how good it felt when Martin O’Neill took the Sunderland job?
I honestly thought that was the moment we arrived.
He was a proper manager, who had won things. And most important of all, he was a boyhood Sunderland fan. He’d learned his trade under the management of Brian Clough and when he spoke, you listened. I can’t speak for anyone else, obviously, but for me it was about as good an appointment as you could expect from our club at that stage.
He replaced Steve Bruce who had sucked the life out of the club after a long winless run (lol Newcastle) and almost instantly lifted the mood. He steered us clear of trouble and had the remit to kick the club on, and challenge for a regular place in the top ten.
Sadly, things just didn’t work out as we had planned.
His brand of football was often torturous, and it felt like the sparkle we expected him to have - the one that saw him win trophies with Celtic and Leicester - just didn’t arrive.
Some blamed it on him not bringing his trusted assistant, John Robertson, along for the ride. Others felt that he’d spent too long out of the game - just over a year, like, but a year is a long time in football, after all.
Did he come to the club too late?
It was no secret that Niall Quinn tried to coax MON to the club back in 2006 when the Drumaville consortium purchased the club from Bob Murray.
O’Neill didn’t feel then like it was the right time, and instead he headed off to Aston Villa, where he spent four years before resigning after a fall out with the club’s owner.
Five years later, however - again out of work - O’Neill felt it was the right time.
He inherited Sunderland in 17th place, teetering just above the drop zone, and after securing an important 2-1 victory over Blackburn in front of almost 40,000 fans at the Stadium of Light, we all felt like a corner had been turned.
Our form improved initially, and by mid-March we were sat in 8th place.
Sadly, the signs that this might not have been the perfect partnership began to show - after winning at the end of March against QPR, O’Neill was unable to secure another win before the end of the season, with the lads failing to win any of their last eight league games.
There was also the pathetic home FA Cup display in the quarter final replay against Everton - the game that some fans believe was the beginning of the end.
The following season, O’Neill was handed a decent budget in order to ensure Sunderland kicked on that summer. He spent big on Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher, players that fans felt would really improve our side. He brought in Danny Rose too, on loan from Spurs, but in truth he didn’t make too many changes that summer, instead just adding a handful of players that he felt would give us a bit of quality in positions that lacked it.
The likes of Asamoah Gyan, Craig Gordon, Cristian Riveros, George McCartney, Michael Turner, Ahmed Elmohamady and Kieran Richardson were allowed to leave, with O’Neill instead preferring to trim the fat, and work with a tighter squad.
The season started much like the last one had ended - the team played dull, uninspiring football, struggled to string together a winning run of games, and we escaped defeat at the hands of Newcastle United in O’Neill’s first-ever home Wear-Tyne derby game by the skin of our teeth thanks to an own goal from Demba Ba.
Short stuck by his man, though, and under O’Neill’s stewardship, Sunderland only ever slipped into the bottom three once, and that was only for one week.
After a loss in November to West Brom, rumours circulated that O’Neill had resigned, but he continued on and things just didn’t improve.
We laboured through the New Year and into 2013, where the signs were ominous - despite Sunderland lingering just above the relegation zone, our low mentality combined with the dire brand of football and poor results on the pitch meant that, at some point, the end was approaching for O’Neill’s time in charge of the club he grew up supporting.
That moment didn’t come until the 30th March 2013 when, after losing to Manchester United in front of almost 44,000 fans at the Stadium of Light - and having failed to win any of our last eight games - Sunderland’s owner relieved the Northern Irishman of his duties.
Martin O’Neill - the man who as a child idolised Sunderland hero Charlie Hurley and, as a result, became fanatical about a team from the north east of England that wore red and white stripes - was out on his arse.
It was a sad end to what should have been the perfect managerial appointment.
Regardless of what happened that day against United, it appeared that Short was already planning his next move, with O’Neill’s successor lined up to take over the next day and lead the charge towards Premier League survival with seven games remaining...