It is fair to say that so far, February 2022 has not gone to plan at the Stadium of Light. The search for a new head coach and the recent disclosure of ownership percentages have whipped up plenty of animosity amongst the supporter base, with the concerns only exacerbated by performances on the pitch. Three opportunities against out-of-form sides have been largely wasted, but has the shortest month of the year always felt this long in the past? If you need a break from all the aggravation, take a trip down memory lane as Roker Report looks at Sunderland’s recent going over the course of the second month…
February 2012 – W4 D0 L2 F9 A7
After an initial burst under new manager Martin O’Neill in the previous weeks, things starting to level out again during the month. The Lads had scored a series of top quality goals since his arrival and that continued with brilliant efforts from Fraizer Campbell and Stephane Sessegnon during a comfortable win against Norwich City at the start of February, which was then followed up with a gutsy performance at Stoke City three days later.
Played in the middle of a snow storm, Sunderland dug in for another three points but were not so resolute in their next Premier League away game and were trounced 4-0 at West Bromwich Albion. FA Cup form meant it was a positive month overall however, with the club getting past both Middlesbrough and Arsenal (who beat them in the league seven days later).
February 2013 – W0 D0 L3 F2 A5
By this point O’Neill’s magic had well and truly waned. Back to back league wins in January had lifted spirits but results remained patchy and in February they fell to three narrow defeats. With the Royals eventually being relegated, the loss at Reading was probably the hardest to take, and both Arsenal and West Brom beat Sunderland just as they had done 12 months earlier.
February 2014 – W2 D0 L2 F5 A6
The month started with a bang, Sunderland winning 3-0 at Newcastle United on the 1st of February. Fans were quickly brought back down to earth a week later as Hull City won at the Stadium of Light however, and in the next league game came the obligatory loss to Arsenal. Whereas a year earlier the club had already been knocked out of both cup competitions by this point, February 2014 saw Sunderland beat Southampton in the FA Cup thanks to a Craig Gardner screamer, having already booked their place at Wembley for the Capital One Cup final.
February 2015 – W1 D2 L3 F4 A8
A year earlier Gus Poyet had been the toast of Wearside, but two heavy defeats in February 2015 proved to be the beginning of the end for him. Sunderland saw off Fulham early in the month to progress to Round 5 of the FA Cup, only to then be dumped out by lower league Bradford City. The tie followed on quickly from a horror show at home when Queens Park Rangers, without an away win all season beforehand, came to Wearside and cruised to victory. Draws against Swansea City and West Brom did little to quell fears over a lack of cutting edge and the month ending routine win for Manchester United proved to be Poyet’s third last game in charge.
February 2016 – W1 D1 L2 F4 A5
Another poor start to the campaign had left Sunderland staring down the barrel of relegation, but an inspired January transfer window from manager Sam Allardyce was starting to bear fruit in the weeks after. A brilliant response to going 2-0 down at Anfield saw the lads take a point off Liverpool and a week later they beat Manchester United following another strong performance. Even tight losses to Manchester City and West Ham United showed some encouraging signs as new arrivals Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone and Whabi Khazri slotted in well and allowed Allardyce to name a settled side for the rest of the campaign.
February 2017 – W1 D0 L2 F4 A6
Even in one of the most disappointing seasons ever, the month of February started in excellent fashion. Somehow not yet cut adrift, a brilliant 4-0 win at Crystal Palace gave hope that Sunderland could haul themselves out of relegation danger once again, but it was a case of one step forward, two steps back as they followed it up with a humiliating collapse against Southampton and a walk over for Everton against their former manager David Moyes.
February 2018 – W0 D2 L3 F6 A11
If fans had thought 2016-17 was bad, the following season turned out to be even worse. February did see some entertainment in the form of two 3-3 draws against Bristol City and Middlesbrough, but the fighting spirit Chris Coleman’s team showed in those matches was in short supply during insipid losses to Ipswich Town, Brentford and Bolton Wanderers; all games that followed a regular pattern of Sunderland struggling to lay a glove on the opposition and then somehow managing to shoot themselves in the foot.
February 2019 – W3 D3 L0 F11 A6
At this stage of the season the Lads were well in the promotion hunt. Jack Ross’ side would eventually burn out however, finding that a division high of 19 draws was too much to overcome. 1-1 became a familiar score line and two such results against Oxford United and Blackpool highlighted something that many felt was becoming an issue, namely that Sunderland could sometimes appear more concerned about avoiding defeat than they were about going for the win.
Several teams looked to shut up shop too, but Aiden McGeady’s wonder strike against Wimbledon at the start of the month showed that the side could still produce moments of quality, and in victories over Gillingham and Bristol Rovers, plus the fight back to earn a point against Accrington Stanley, Sunderland also proved that when they hit form they were too hot to handle.
February 2020 – W4 D1 L1 F9 A3
It is easy to forget that for a while under Phil Parkinson Sunderland looked the business. February 2020 was part of a run of only one defeat in 15 games, that singular loss coming on the 1st of the month against Portsmouth. Other than that the Lads were flying; they won four consecutive games against Ipswich Town, Rochdale, Oxford United and Bristol Rovers without conceding a goal and when it did look like Fleetwood were about to beat them a late Max Power equaliser rescued a point.
It was March where things started to go wrong; three games without a win proving costly once points per game came into play.
February 2021 – W5* D2 L1 F18 A8
*Includes penalty shoot out victory following a 1-1 draw
This time last year proved to be one of the most hectic February’s Sunderland have known. Eight games were played, a spot at Wembley was booked and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘takeover’ was ratified by the Football League – even though some of the finer details of that last development have only just come to light.
Consecutive trips to MK Dons meant a Papa John’s Trophy semi-final place and another league point were confirmed, and a disappointing defeat to Shrewsbury Town was quickly forgotten following a crazy 4-1 win over Doncaster Rovers. With supporters having to make do with streaming services ‘one of their own’ Grant Leadbitter ended a tense penalty shoot out in Sunderland’s favour to send the club to the Trophy final after they had drawn against Lincoln City and the good times continued with solid wins over Burton Albion and Fleetwood.
Even going two goals behind at Crewe Alexandra wasn’t a problem; fantastic goals from Jordan Jones and Chris Maguire got the Lads back into the game and at that point things were looking up.
A year on and the atmosphere seems very different. The side has lost more games this month than it has in the last three February’s combined, and with off field matters once again coming to the fore the hope has to be that the structures put in place over the last 12 months will eventually see us through the latest turbulence.
If we are hoping that the past can bring some solace in the meantime though, look no further than the last time we were in the third tier. February 1988 brought only one victory, and as well losing to lowly Hartlepool United in the Sherpa Van Trophy the side suffered painful defeats to Bristol Rovers and Aldershot. Not only that, but at Twerton Park a damaged light fitting nearly fell into an occupied bath in the away team changing rooms after the game.
With that potential disaster avoided, the team finished the season by winning promotion. Proof then if you somehow needed it that things are never dull at Sunderland, and 34 years later we are going to need a similar response in the remaining months if we are going to repeat the feat.