After the fuss that was made over convincing Dick Advocaat to stay on as Sunderland manager in the summer of 2015, it was almost inevitable it wouldn’t end well.
However, we probably expected it to last longer than eight league games, which was what happened when Advocaat and the club amicably parted ways following a 2-2 draw against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United at the Stadium of Light in early October.
With the club sitting second bottom of the Premier League - enter stage left, former Sunderland defender and Premier League survival extraordinaire, Sam Allardyce.
Big Sam had been linked with the club on a couple of previous occasions, having been briefly a member of Peter Reid’s backroom staff at Roker as well as a year as a player in 1980-81, but this was the point that the stars aligned to make it happen.
Allardyce was eager to get back into a management role after leaving West Ham United five months earlier after a decision by the Hammers not to renew his contract and despite the early comprehensive 3-0 victory over the mags at the Stadium of Light, it took a while for Allardyce to get us going.
Fast forward to the beginning of February, following the closure of the January transfer window, green shoots began to appear. As Sunderland took on and impressed against Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City on the 2nd February, it was aided by the debuts of Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Dame N’Doye, with also Jan Kirchhoff making only his second appearance for the club.
We were unfortunate to end up losing to City via the only goal of the game and next up was a daunting trip to Liverpool, where new manager, Jurgen Klopp was still finding his feet after just over three months in charge.
It wasn’t an easy introduction for the ex-Borussia Dortmund manager after taking over from Brendan Rodgers, with Liverpool sitting 8th in the Premier League, the pressure was on. The lead up to this fixture wasn’t easy for the German either, as in the days leading up to the game Klopp required the removal of his appendix which meant Zeljko Buvac, Klopp’s Serbian assistant was the man orchestrating from the sidelines.
To add to that, there was also a planned walkout by Liverpool fans on the 77th minute of the game to protest about ticket prices. Ahead of kick-off, the Kop was a sea of black flags as part of the ticket protest while banners proclaiming “£nough is £nough” and “Football without fans is nothing” were scattered throughout Anfield.
However, when the action got underway, it seemed like a typical trip to Anfield where we were required to park the bus, but despite enjoying 82% of the possession in the first half, Liverpool could not break the deadlock and it went into the break goalless.
The second half continued in a similar vein, with Big Sam’s side utterly unambitious to venture far from the edge of our own penalty area and Liverpool seemingly intent on keeping possession while not moving faster than a brisk walk.
But just before the hour mark, our plan began to unravel. First Firmino scored with his head from a James Milner cross and ten minutes later the Brazilian closed down a Billy Jones clearance and laid it on a plate for Adam Lallana to double the lead. Seemingly game over.
Seven minutes later, around 10,000 home fans left Anfield chanting “You greedy bastards, enough is enough”, where many were leaving safe in the knowledge Liverpool were banking all three points. But, five minutes later it all began to change when we pulled a goal back.
Immediate thoughts in this situation involve the word “consolation”, but with the edgy atmosphere around Anfield, the home side began to retreat and drop deeper and deeper in the closing stages.
We left it until the final minute of the game until Khazri found Defoe in the area and after turning Mamadou Sakho, levelled things up for the Lads - it was Defoe’s sixth goal in six games and only Sergio Aguero had scored more in the Premier League during that calendar year.
Allardyce was clearly happy with the point:
You think your day is over when you are 0-2 down at Anfield. But we fought back with two quality goals and got a point by not giving up. It was never say die until the end.
When we went two down it looked like the fear had left us and we played better with the ball. We created chances and it was the quality of goals that got us a point.
We won’t get goals back like that every game but today it was a precious point for us.
Saturday 6th February 2016
Barclays Premier League
Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland
[Firmino 59’, Lallana 70’ - Johnson 82’, Defoe 89’]
Sunderland: Mannone, Jones (Yedlin), Kone, O’Shea, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff (Johnson), Cattermole, M’Vila, Watmore (N’Doye), Khazri, Defoe Substitutes not used: Pickford, Brown, Rodwell, Toivonen
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Moreno, Allen (Ibe), Sakho, Lovren (Toure), Milner, Henderson (Leiva), Firminho, Can, Lallana Substitutes not used: Ward, Flanagan, Sturridge, Benteke