It’s very easy to fall into the assumption that Sam Allardyce began his nine months in charge of Sunderland with a scene similar to something from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, where he broke open the doors, told everyone how it was going to be and it was all fine from that point on - but that wasn’t quite how it panned out.
After defeat in his first game in charge at West Bromwich Albion, that came only days after his appointment, the Allardyce era seemingly exploded into life for real when Newcastle United arrived for his first game as manager at the Stadium of Light.
It ended in a convincing 3-0 victory, that included a third goal that was the icing on the cake when Steven Fletcher finished off a sweeping move that began with a Newcastle corner, that made it feel like we’d be heading up the table.
Over the next nine games however we lost seven and won two and it wasn’t until Allardyce was able to rebuild in January that we really got going. We ended the January transfer window still in big trouble, sitting second bottom of the table, but the likes of Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone began to get into the swing of things over the course of the first three games of February.
We were unlucky to kick-off the month with a defeat against Manchester City on home soil which we then followed up with coming back from two behind to gain a point at Anfield four days later - next up was the visit of Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United to the Stadium of Light.
Although it was a Manchester United who were sitting fifth in the table and twelve points behind league leaders Leicester City, it was still a formidable proposition when you face a side that contained the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Juan Mata, so United were clear favourites - but it took only two and a half minutes for the Lads to take the lead.
A free-kick was awarded to Sunderland mid-way inside the United half on our left hand side, making it an ideal position for the newly acquired Wahbi Khazri to deliver. When the free-kick was first taken it looked on first glance to be a fairly poor delivery, but Jermain Defoe, who had made a run away from goal, jumped over the ball which seemed to throw De Gea off-guard in the United goal, which allowed the ball to end up in the bottom corner.
The visitors applied the pressure to get back into the game and agonisingly it was only five minutes before the break when it finally happened. It began with Juan Mata on the edge of the area showing his class with a low shot, that was destined for the bottom corner, until Vito Mannone somehow managed to keep it out, but unfortunately, Anthony Martial was first to the ball and finished from a tight angle.
All square at the break and it remained tense until a Sunderland corner in the 82nd minute of the game. Once again it was Khazri to deliver from the Sunderland right as we attacked the South Stand. The ball looped high to the back post and it was Lamine Kone who had made a run to meet the ball on the six yard line with a bullet header that found it’s way into the back of the net.
We didn’t care at the time but on further inspection, Martial had actually cleared the ball off the line for it only to hit the back of De Gea and land in the back of the net, so officially awarding the goal as an own goal to the United goalkeeper.
We held out for our first home league win over United since 1997 with three points that took us above Norwich City and into 18th place and only a point of safety.
It’s fair to say Allardyce was happy with the win:
The new players have been on the list before January. The problem is can you get them here and do they want to come and join the fight? They were desperate to come here.
It shows the importance of set plays. We’ve found a lad who delivers a great ball. One, he’s scored himself and the second ball for Lamine’s goal was quality.
I thought Jermain Defoe was going to make it 2-0 and then Dame N’Doye got in one-on-one. We all prayed he would score. When he missed I wondered if it would be one of those days.
Everyone is very happy at the moment. I’ve sensed a commitment and a desire and will to get out of the problems.
Saturday 13th February 2016
Barclays Premier League
Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United
[Khazri 3’, De Gea (OG) 82’ - Martial 39’]
Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, Kone, O’Shea, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff (Rodwell), Cattermole (Toivonen), M’Vila, N’Doye, Khazri, Defoe (Borini) Substitutes not used: Pickford, Matthews, Brown, Honeyman
Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian (Love), Borthwick, Carrick, Smalling, Blind, Lingard (Depay), Schneiderlin (Keane), Rooney, Mata, Martial Substitutes not used: Romero, Weir, Pereira, Herrera