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On This Day (2 Jan 2016): A Happy New Year for Allardyce’s Sunderland as Defoe buries sorry Villa

It was a truly crap year, but at least it started well for Sunderland. Villa were already doomed to relegation and Big Sam’s side grabbed all three points at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

2016 was a shockingly bad year, kicking off a half-decade of absolutely shockingly bad years - to the point where it really is now starting to get rather silly.

Almost in anticipation of the binfire world that was looming heavy on the horizon, that year we lost the cultural icons of David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Prince, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Sir George Martin, Victoria Wood, and Leonard Cohen... Trump, Farage, and Moyes would yet wreak havoc, but at least Sunderland AFC’s men started us off with a rare and important win.

After a couple of vital victories at the end of November, Sam Allardyce's side had lost every single game they’d played in December 2015 - with an aggregate score across the five fixtures of 3-12 - and sat 19th in the Premier League on 11 points. It looked to be a bleak midwinter indeed.

But having had a day to nurse the New Year hangovers, and having put in a much-improved performance in the previous game, a home loss against Liverpool, there was still a sense that we could pull the season round if only we could pick up three points against bottom of the table Aston Villa, who had only achieved eight points so far.

Sunderland got a vital first goal midway through the opening period, eventually accredited as an oggie for Micah Richard, after Patrick van Arnholt smashed the ball goalwards from outside the penalty area and his shot was deflected past Brad Guzan.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images

The performance was, however, somewhat lacking and Allardyce would later describe our passing as having been erratic in the first half. One nil-up at half time, things began to get nervy as Villa scored a beautiful equaliser on 63 minutes, Carles Gil’s flying volley at the back post leaving Vito Manone with no chance.

Up to that point in the game, our star striker Jermaine Defoe, had been on the margins of the game - feeding off the scraps. But on 72 minutes he took the match by the scruff of the neck and scored with a wonderful strike that been Guzon at his near post before netting a third for Sunderland in the final minute.

It could have been even better for the former Spurs and England man had an injury time goal not been ruled out for offside. This was a must-win game, and the Lads had done just that, much to the satisfaction of Allardyce:

I was very pleased with everyone holding their nerve, fans included. When Villa scored we could have gone under. But we kept it tight at the back.

You need anxiety to play football but if it goes too far into fear you can lose your nerve. When you’re confident, things come naturally. But when you want to take an extra touch or an extra second to pass, with that fear, you give the ball away. The only way to dismiss that fear is to win games.

Thank God for Jermain Defoe and his finishing qualities. He turned the game back in our favour.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

A corner had been turned. It was a psychologically important result for the team and the fanbase. Three points pulled us a little further away from Villa and a little closer to the Mags, and ultimately to safety.

The gaffer demanded an unbeaten run in the subsequent eight fixtures, and in that period the squad delivered - we picked up nine further vital points with two wins - including one against Manchester United - and only two defeats - including one of those against Manchester City.

2016 certainly started brightly and it would reach a high point in early May, but we all now know what horrors were to await us after that.