We’ve had a few shit seasons over the years, but all things considered. the 2017/18 campaign was well and truly the shittest.
From being introduced to the worst home kit in living (and un-living) memory, to signing the comedically hopeless Jason Steele and Brendan Galloway.
From thinking that couldn’t get any worse to signing Jake Clarke-Salter and Lee Camp.
From punching yourself in the face listening to Simon Grayson’s mixed metaphors to finally receiving the ultimate sucker punch – relegation confirmed thanks to a goal by an overweight Darren Bent – this was the ultimate season that promised bollocks all and delivered so much less.
Still, there were a couple of enjoyable moments – the away win at Norwich, a 3-3 against Lee Johnson’s Bristol City, and the final game of the season when optimism rode high with our new owners in the stands…
Wonder how that turned out?
To me, it all seems like a lifetime ago, a parallel universe that’s best forgotten, but it was a mere four years ago – and 48 months ago today we headed to Pride Park for a Good Friday fixture against promotion-chasing Derby County.
Derby were gunning for promotion, only a place behind Aston Villa in the play-off positions, although for balance it has to be noted they were eight games without a win, having been second in the table in February.
We were anchored to the foot of the table, 10 games without a win, and only one three-point haul in the year.
Chris Coleman’s much-heralded appointment as Grayson’s successor had failed to realise anything like the hope we’d all felt when he quit the Welsh job in favour of the SoL, and we’d watched in desperation as a raft of horrendous signings that arrived through the door in the January transfer window as our top scorer, Lewis Grabban, departed.
For all of his seeming faults as a person, Grabban was the one player who was keeping our head above water.
His replacement, Middlesbrough’s Ashley Fletcher, struggled badly, and tellingly, only Fletcher, “goalkeeper” Lee Camp and Aiden McGeady were members the starting line up at Pride Park who hadn’t been at the club the previous season.
The lads lined up like this:
Camp, Love, Oviedo, Cattermole, O’Shea, Kone, Gooch, McNair, Fletcher, Honeyman, McGeady. Subs: Steele, Matthews, Wilson, Robson, McManaman, Lua Lua, Maja.
Gary Rowett’s Derby lined up like this:
Carson, Baird, Forsyth, Thorne, Keogh, Davies, Weimann, Johnson, Jerome, Vydra, Lawrence. Subs: Roos, Wisdom, Pearce, Ledley, Thomas, Palmer, Nugent.
For some religions, Easter signifies rebirth, resurrection and renewal, and even the most confirmed atheists could have been forgiven for wondering if there was, after all, a higher power at play, as Sunderland turned in their best performance of the season – probably their best since the Allardyce games against Chelsea and Everton.
From the early stages, Sunderland took the game to Derby, and grabbed an early lead when George Honeyman’s deflected shot found a way past former England keeper Carson.
The lead was doubled ten minutes before half time, and something happened that, if it didn’t have you believing in a god, then you’d have been happily convinced about the existence of the Easter bunny, as Ashley Fletcher finally scored a goal.
Yes, that’s right.
The confidence-shorn striker seized the opportunity presented to him by a misplaced Keogh pass to slot home. His relief was palpable. Had a goalscoring talent, that had simply needed that first goal to get him off and running, been unleashed? We hoped. Oh, we hoped.
Matej Vydra – a player I’ve always liked – put away a half volley to cut the lead in half just before half time, and you assumed the writing was on the wall.
However, we hadn’t quite read this script before.
McGeady slotted home a penalty after Gooch had been fouled by Forsyth, and John O’Shea notched his first goals for four seasons to seal the game.
After the game, Coleman said:
It was a superb performance and very important because of where we’ve been in the last nine or 10 games which haven’t been good enough.
So the performance was huge for us. Now Monday is a big test for us because we play with fear at home and we’ve got to get over that. We haven’t won back-to-back games all season so it’s a big challenge for us and a big opportunity.
We are running out of opportunities but we’ve given ourselves a chance and we’ve got to capitalise on that.
The result lifted us off the bottom of the table, only three points away safety with seven games left to play. Up next, on Easter Monday, were 17th placed Sheffield Wednesday at home – a prime opportunity to get us on a run to safety…