After the dramatic run of form that saw us stay up in 2014, the summer brought the usual bout of pre-season optimism that this new campaign would be different.
However, one win in our first nine league games put paid to that, and we were back in familiar territory near the bottom of the table.
It hadn’t all been bad, though. Just three of those nine had ended in defeat, however the manner of one of them in particular – that 8-0 reverse at Southampton – had understandably elevated concerns about Gus Poyet’s team.
On this day nine years ago, we took to the road for the first time since that trip to St Mary’s as we faced Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Costel Pantillimon – a summer signing from Manchester City, who’d lined up in goal against us in the League Cup final – was given his league debut for the club in place of Vito Mannone, whose stay of execution after Southampton only lasted one, nervy game against his former employers, Arsenal.
Also introduced into the starting XI was Anthony Reveillere, a French international right back who’d been brought into the club only a couple of weeks earlier after his contract at Napoil had expired in the summer.
Days away from his 35th birthday, Reveillere – who’d spent the vast majority of his career at Lyon, and played in Euro 2012 for France – certainly wasn’t a long-term signing, but provided experience and know-how, and a touch of defensive class. Which, after conceding 10 in two games, was something we desperately needed.
While the inclusion of Pantillimon and Reveillere gave the travelling faithful some hope, it was almost immediately shattered within the opening moments of the game. Santiago Vergini – who, of course, had scored that spectacular own goal in our last away game – appeared to bring down former Sunderland striker Frazier Campbell in the box. Rotund ref Phil Dowd fortunately turned away the appeals, much to Warnock’s displeasure.
Sunderland – wearing a one-off white and blue kit which would have been an incredibly popular full time away shirt – took the lead on the half hour mark – Steven Fletcher heading home to put the lads ahead after a van Aanholt cross.
Van Aanholt was in the thick of the action moments later, too – bundling over Zaha in the box, which again the referee didn’t see enough in to award a spot kick. It was the full back’s last action, however – he dislocated his shoulder in the challenge, and was replaced by Wes Brown – Revilliere moving across to left back.
And it was Brown who unwittingly provided an equaliser for Palace in the second half, putting Campbell’s back heel past his own keeper, and registering Sunderland’s 10th own goal in just over a year. It was Brown’s sixth OG of his career – compared with the four he’d scored at the right end.
But Sunderland rallied and took the lead again through a low Jordi Gomez shot from the edge of the box. And, after Palace’s Mile Jedinak was dismissed for a second yellow for kicking out at the Spaniard, Sunderland’s chances of a much-needed away win were increased.
The game was sealed late on when Fletcher took Bridcutt’s pass and finished cooly, and the lads looked as if they could be back on track.
After the game, Poyet said:
The win means a lot, more than anyone can think. It was a difficult couple of weeks, where it looked like everything we had done earlier in the season was thrown away.
This result is a confirmation that I knew we were better than the Southampton game. We feel like we are a proper team today.
I couldn’t believe we scored another own goal. Wes Brown could not believe it himself. I don’t know if you can train that out of players but we need to get back to basics.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Sunderland
Brown OG 55. Fletcher 31, 90; Gomez 79
Sunderland: Pantillimon, Reveillere, van Aanholt (Brown 37), Cattermole, Vergini, O’Shea, Buckley (Bridcutt 82), Larsson, Fletcher, Gomez, Wickham (Altidore 78). Subs not used: Mannone, Mavrias, Johnson, Graham.
Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Ward, Jedinak, Hangeland (Gayle 84), Dann, Zaha, Ledley, Campbell, Chamakh (Puncheon 84), Bolasie. Subs not used: Hennessey, Mariappa, McArthur, Bannan, Doyle.