Sunderland escape relegation as Sam Allardyce strikes again
Future looks bright for the Black Cats – and it's all down to their manager
Sunderland brought the curtain down on this year's relegation scrap in emphatic fashion, beating Everton 3-0 at the Stadium of Light to secure another season of top flight football and condemn Norwich and Newcastle to the drop.
The Black Cats may have saved themselves, but they are running out of lives. This was the fourth year in a row they have dodged the drop at the business end of the season - although few supporters were concerned with that statistic as they revelled in their survival and the fate of their local rivals at St James' Park.
Key to Sunderland's success has been the impact of manager Sam Allardyce, who took over from Dick Advocaat in October, when the team were second bottom of the table and winless.
The achievement is "particularly sweet" for Big Sam, says George Caulkin of The Times, as he was fired by Newcastle in 2008, after just 24 games in charge. He has also been involved with a feud with Magpies manager Rafa Benitez dating back to their time at Bolton and Liverpool.
Sunderland hired Allardyce because he has never been relegated from the Premier League - a record that remains intact after a difficult season.
"As well as refreshing an impoverished first-team squad in January and overseeing an improvement in results — Sunderland have lost only four league games in 2016 — he has dealt with the impact of Adam Johnson's dismissal and imprisonment for child-sex offences," says Caulkin,
Allardyce is not a "fashionable" manager, says Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail, but he has won over the Sunderland support.
"There will always be a number of clubs that need simple security and that is what he offers," he says. "He is much more than a Red Adair rescue act, though, and the way he has turned this diseased club around, under pressure, and with only one flaky January transfer window to make improvements cannot be underestimated."
The contrast with Newcastle could not be greater, adds Samuel. While the Magpies scrambled to stay up and failed, Sunderland gave Allardyce enough time to turn things round. Survival was down to "four months of consistently impressive performances, chock full of character, determination and a fair bit of quality too", says Chris Young of the Sunderland Echo.
"Crucially, the strength of the spirit in the Sunderland dressing room has been evident for months," he adds. Allardyce "deserves enormous credit for what he has achieved, when on several occasions, all seemed lost".
Young notes that victory over Everton means the team now average a point a game for the first time this season. "What a time to do it."
What's more, he adds, a good summer in the transfer market and Sunderland will have the foundations of a successful side.