There was a time when the Black Cats seemed to yo-yo between the Championship and the Premier League, particularly after the Peter Reid era and the general managerial upheaval from Howard Wilkinson to Mick McCarthy to Niall Quinn to Roy Keane, to Ricky Sbraiga, but now, under Englishman, Steve Bruce they are signing on for their fourth consecutive season in the top-flight after finishing in a respectable 13th last season.
After an excellent start to the season, Sunderland ended up going through a winter of discontent which saw them have a terrible 14 game winless run stretching over 108 days from the 21st of November where the beat Arsenal 1-0 to the 9th March before the won again – beating Bolton – somehow they managed to weather the storm in the end to finish just two points behind Fulham who finished twelfth.
Darren Bent was, without doubt, their star man of last season and it looks as if Sunderland have finally found a proven goalscorer that has eluded them since Kevin Phillips departed the club a couple of seasons ago. Bent was their highest goalscorer with 24 goals in the Premier League last season and was even touted by many to make Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad. Sadly, he didn’t, but he will be looking to make the various squads for the European Championship qualifiers.
The Black Cats will be looking to get the season off to a flying start, as they did last year where they took 17 points from their first 11 games – wins over two of the previous Big Four: Arsenal and Liverpool and a 2-2 draw against Manchester United had all Sunderland fans dreaming they could well be heading for a repeat of the Peter Reid days. Sadly, the aforementioned blip over the winter period occurred and there looked to be a relegation tussle on the horizon – luckily, they didn’t get engaged in that after all.
Bruce has already delved into the transfer market and has bolstered his midfield by adding Cristian Riveros – one of the stars of the Paraguayan team at the World Cup – along with Titus Bramble, Marcos Angeleri who has won two caps from Argentina to prop up the defence. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been signed as extra cover for current number one, the injured Craig Gordon and understudy Martin Fulop. Reports also suggest that defender John Mensah is close to returning on-loan from Lyon for the season. Roy O’Donovan, Daryl Murphy and last season’s captain Loik Cana have all departed the club.
When you look at Sunderland’s squad in detail, you can take nothing but positives from it because they realistically should be challenging for the Europa League. Last season’s form of the winter period was unforgiveable and had Steve Bruce not had the backing of the board and the fans or not been in his first season as manager, then he could well have been out the door during that period. Luckily, he remains in charge to continue building what looks to be a very strong side that could well break into the top-ten.