A hectic summer had seen the club change hands as Stewart Donald took over from Ellis Short, Jack Ross was appointed as manager, and new seats were installed thanks to the free labour of supporters.
And heading into the new year, things were looking positive enough. Sunderland had found a striking maestro in Josh Maja, and with some big hitters still involved – namely Lee Cattermole, Bryan Oviedo and Aiden McGeady – it seemed inconceivable that Sunderland would fail to get promoted.
Throughout much of the season, Sunderland were within striking distance of an automatic promotion place, often with a game or two in in hand, having called matches off due to international call ups.
However, a backlogged fixture list caught up with the lads, and we fell away late in the season.
In truth, it had been coming. Will Grigg was signed in ridiculous fashion to replace Maja, who was traded for a bit of gold and the balance of Whabi Khazri’s transfer fee, and he did not get anywhere near the goalscoring output achieved by his predecessor.
This, coupled with an injury to another of our star players, Aiden McGeady, meant Sunderland sleepwalked into the play offs.
On this day four years ago, with Sunderland’s place secure in the play offs, the team completed their regular League One season against Southend United - who were fighting for their survival on the final day.
It was a cold, wet day with the away end sold out weeks before in anticipation of celebrating automatic promotion. Alas, it was a damp squib, but yet the fans showed up in their droves.
For the game itself, we were massively under par yet again, which was a common theme at the end of this regular season. Southend played like a team with a purpose and goal, while Sunderland looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there.
The first half was dominated by Southend.
Kevin Bond’s side then had two glorious chances to take the lead, with both falling to youth product Dru Yearwood.
First, he burst through the Black Cats' backline to be one-on-one with Jon McLaughlin only for the Sunderland goalkeeper to spread himself well to make the save.
Then, Yearwood had another great chance to grab his first goal for the club when he was found by a low Mantom ball into the area – but the teenage midfielder failed to connect properly with his strike, slicing well wide.
Sunderland then had a great chance to score on the counter-attack as Lynden Gooch found acres of space on the left but he chose to cross rather than shoot and the opportunity was lost.
Then, Stephen McLaughlin’s corner for Southend was headed up into the air by Rob Kiernan. With the bouncing ball finding its way to White about eight yards out, the defender put the ball beyond the Black Cats’ goalkeeper with a spectacular overhead kick to send a packed-out Roots Hall wild.
After the interval, both sides had a couple of free-kick opportunities go begging, with Maguire hitting the wall from 20-yards out before Southend’s McLaughlin tried fooling his namesake in goal by going for the near-post only to hit the side netting.
Chris Maguire equalised from the penalty spot for the away side after Charlie Wyke was shoved by a Southend defender but late on, against the run of play, United re-took the lead.
Humphrey was alive to a second-ball Dylan McGeouch, which Flanagan couldn’t deal with. He shot under McLaughlin, nutmegging the keeper from close range.
The home end went wild as they dreamed that this goal was the one that would keep them up in League One - and with results going their way, it would.
For Sunderland, it was another late-season blow as the team went into the play offs with little enthusiasm, and very little momentum.