Following Martin O’Neill’s arrival at Sunderland in December 2011, there was much hope that the former Celtic and Leicester boss could change our fortunes, years after he was first linked with the job.
We’d wanted O’Neill to take charge of the club for years and it was only in 2011 when he believed the time was right. Upon his arrival, we surged up the table, playing with a higher tempo and increased confidence, and displaying all the traits of an O’Neill team.
We finished thirteenth after a slight slump towards the end of the 2011/2012 season, but hopes were high for 2012/2013, assuming we could bring in reinforcements.
High on the list were strikers, as following Nicklas Bendtner’s return to Arsenal and the sale of Asamoah Gyan, we’d been left short.
Furthermore, no Sunderland player had reached double figures in goals during the previous season, with Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon the top scorers with eight apiece.
Early in the summer, it was made clear that Wolverhampton Wanderers and Scotland striker Steven Fletcher was our primary target. Fletcher had notched up twenty two goals in sixty six games for Wolves, despite their eventual relegation.
His impressive form for the Midlanders had made him a popular choice for Sunderland and we had three bids knocked back early on. This made Fletcher restless and in an attempt to speed up the process, the Scot handed in a transfer request.
Eventually, on this day in 2012, we signed Fletcher in a deal worth £14 million. He was Sunderland’s third summer signing after Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha, and O’Neill spoke of his delight at finally signing the striker.
It’s been no secret that we needed to strengthen our attacking options and Steven has a proven track record of scoring goals.
He’s young and constantly improving and he’ll be a very welcome addition to the squad.
I’m delighted that we’ve been able to bring him to Sunderland.
Fletcher made an instant impact, scoring five goals in his first four games.
These would prove vital for a team that was quite shy in front of goal and amazingly, it took until November for someone other than Fletcher to score for us.
Only one defeat in the opening eight games of the 2012/2013 season would suggest a good start, but six of those matches had been drawn.
O’Neill bemoaned the the postponement of our game against Reading in the second game of the season but even by the time we beat them 3-0 in December, we were in the bottom three.
Despite Fletcher’s best efforts and a total of twelve goals, we struggled badly, with O’Neill eventually fired in March after a defeat to Manchester United. As we all know, a contentious decision brought Paolo Di Canio to the club and we scraped our way to survival yet again.
Fletcher’s first season would turn out to be his best at Sunderland in terms of goals scored.
He grappled with injuries throughout the next three years and ended up struggling for consistency. In February 2016, he signed for Marseille, which ultimately ended his Sunderland career.