It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when we knew we were more than likely to go down for a second consecutive season.
Yes, we’d been relegated under the disastrous David Moyes, the season before; and yes, we’d struggled badly after a promising start under the by-now-departed Simon Grayson. And yes, we’d seen our best – only – striker Lewis Grabban recalled from his loan spell.
But we’d made what, on paper at least, looked like an excellent managerial appointment – Chris Coleman had the swagger and the patter that seemed to suit the club – and since his arrival we’d picked up a few points that seemed to offer promise of a platform upon which we could build with a decent transfer window.
Wins at Burton and Forest, as well as a good victory at home to Fulham, had promised better things lay around the corner; however, a disastrous 4-0 defeat at Cardiff had the lads at rock bottom of the Championship as Hull City came to town.
Hull had been relegated with us too – in fact, we’d pretty much relegated them, thanks to a 2-0 win at their place the previous April. It was our only win in the final 13 games of the season, and one of only two in the final 25 games.
While we’d struggled on our return to the Championship, so too had the Tigers. They were only three points ahead of us after a disastrous experiment with Russian manager Leonid Slutsky brought only four wins in 21 games.
Shortly after we swapped Grayson for Coleman, Hull exchanged Slutsky for Nigel Adkins. He brought a side to the Stadium of Light that included former Sunderland players David Meyler, Frazier Campbell and Seb Larsson – who’d been given a free transfer at the end of the previous season.
While Larsson had departed, many of the ‘old guard’ who’d been on duty during our fall from Premier League grace were still around – O’Shea, Cattermole, Billy Jones and Oviedo were regulars, but to face Hull they were joined by a number of youngsters, who Coleman had turned to in the hope their exuberance would dig the club out of the hole they currently found themselves in.
Ethan Robson was given his first start, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja were paired up front together, supported by George Honeyman. At the back, Ty Browning and Jake Clarke-Salter lined up either side of O’Shea.
While Josh Maja had grabbed the winner in what was the side’s only home win of the season to date against Fulham, it was Joel Asoro who’d generally been viewed as the most promising prospect of the two – and it was Asoro who put Sunderland into the lead after just 20 minutes.
Billy Jones and Maja had both gone close in an entertaining opening period in which Sunderland dominated – and Asoro’s calm finish after being set up by Honeyman broke the deadlock.
After the game, Coleman gushed:
The goal we scored, I don’t think any team I’ve ever managed have scored a goal as good as that.
It was absolutely fabulous.
The passing, the movement and the finish was brilliant.
Former Sunderland players Campbell and Meyler both went close to equalising, but Sunderland held firm – with Browning, Clarke-Salter and Cattermole all earning post-match plaudits, alongside the impressive Robson.
The victory lifted Sunderland off the bottom of the table, onto level points with 21st-placed Hull – and, with 18 games of the season, and 11 days of the transfer window left, there was an overriding feeling that, surely, we’d be ok...