Sunderland began last season poorly under Steve Bruce winning just two of their opening 14 games of the season. Bruce was already largely unpopular figure with the Black Cats fans and results certainly did not help his cause, particularly with his post-match moaning and excuses to the media. In December, Bruce was sacked and it was all left for Martin O’Neill to come in and pick up the pieces, he led Sunderland to a 13th place finish.
Initially, Sunderland felt the full force of the Martin O’Neill effect with just two defeats in his first ten league games (both of which were away from home to Chelsea and Spurs). The Black Cats then endured a typical mid-season slump, which would see them win just twice between March and the end of the season in May – even going through a spell of four games without scoring a goal – a far cry from those dramatic late victories against Manchester City and Blackburn earlier in the season.
Martin O’Neill is usually a busy man when it comes to the transfer market, but it has been a case of one way traffic at the Stadium of Light with Craig Gordon, Trevor Carson, Cristian Riveros, George McCartney, Asamoah Gyan, Marcos Angeleri and Michael Turner all leaving the club. Carlos Cuellar (above), who worked with O’Neill at Aston Villa, remains the Black Cats only serious signing of the summer. The club have been linked with a £12m-£14m move for Wolves striker, Steven Fletcher, as they look to bolster their attacking options having lost Gyan and Nicklas Bendtner returning to Arsenal. O’Neill will be hoping his side can score more than last season’s total of 45 goals.
James McClean was a revelation under O’Neill last season, despite being signed by Steve Bruce; he didn’t see any first-team action until the Northern Irish man arrived in December, but when he did he managed 23 league appearances scoring 5 goals and was voted Sunderland’s young player of the year. Seb Larsson, Stephane Sessegnon and Jack Colback all had excellent seasons for the Black Cats.
O’Neill will be able to get a full season under his belt at Sunderland this time around. In recent seasons, there has been an aim of European football – i.e a Europa League place – and certainly for the amount that has been invested, had the Black Cats not suffered from slumps during seasons it would have been achievable. With a better start to this season, a top-half finish should be in the Black Cats sights.
Opening five fixtures: Arsenal (A), Reading (H), Swansea (A), Liverpool (H) and West Ham (A)