Sam the saviour: How Sam Allardyce saved Sunderland
Posted by Paul David Sanderson | Published on May 12, 2016
Sam Allardyce suits a club like Sunderland. Always in a fight to survive and never look to escape the cycle. So when Allardyce joined in October last year, I was confident that he could replicate what he has done at so many other clubs. After an emphatic win against local rivals and relegation rivals, Newcastle, it looked like he could be the man to lead us to survival. However, after a run of draws and defeats, the hope slowly faded away amongst some supporters. What Allardyce needed to do now was to keep the hope in the dressing room. We still had plenty of games to go but with the longest amount of time in the relegation zone this season (which we still hold now) it looked quite bleak.
It was clear that Sunderland needed some reinforcements bringing in during the January transfer window. In previous seasons the business had been frankly horrendous but with a new manager comes changes in the way we play and the attitude in the dressing room. It was clear that Sam was aiming to build on what was one of the worst defences in the country, and so brought in Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff. Both relatively unknown players, but players that had strength and an aerial threat. Next up was the attack. After loaning out Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham, Sam needed to buy an attacker to help provide service to the prolific Jermain Defoe. He brought in two players to fill this role in striker Dame N’Doye and winger Wahbi Khazri.
With new players brought in, it was time to see whether the transfer window had lived up to the low expectations set. At first it looked as though it had been like so many before as Sunderland debutant Jan Kirchhoff deflected a goal in and conceded a penalty. However, it looked much brighter for Kirchhoff as he started alongside debutants Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone in a tough fixture against Manchester City. Kone and Kirchhoff (who was in a more advanced role) were outstanding and just proved to all of those who doubted Kirchhoff wrong.
So now it was just a case of turning the draws and defeats, where we had been so dominant, into wins. Sam’s transfers brought life to the dressing room and quality when on the pitch, so it was clear when watching the games that he could guide this team to victory. This happened against Manchester United. New signing Wahbi Khazri scored a free kick and Lamine Kone almost got his name on the score sheet as well, had it not been for the goals panel ruling it as a David De Gea own goal.
After the Manchester United game, it all looked to be solved, a team that could now defend and also score goals. Sam Allardyce’s gamble was paying off. However, after 4 straight draws and a defeat to Leicester we were still trapped in the relegation zone. Our performances were outstanding but we could not get that clean sheet we needed. With Defoe on form we knew that we could score goals but silly mistakes were costing us points. This is where possibly the biggest game of the season came. Winning this game could kill off Norwich and leave a two horse race between rivals Sunderland and Newcastle, the ideal situation. Allardyce played his tactics perfectly to lead us to a 3-0 win. Not only did we get the three points and a clean sheet but a huge boost.
Allardyce found the formula to win games, using players such as Sebastian Larsson and Duncan Watmore as impact subs. Now it was just about continuing the performances, getting the ball to Defoe and making sure that our defence was as tight as possible. We were able to do this bagging five points out of a possible nine, leaving us in the ideal position where not only could we survive but also relegate local rivals Newcastle United (a former employer of Sam).
We picked our 7th unchanged side in a row (the first time in the club’s history) and we were able to get the win to secure our premier league status through Patrick Van Aanholt and a Sam Allardyce signing in Lamine Kone. Sam had used the same tactics as in the Norwich and Chelsea wins and was able to replicate the great performances.
Many criticise Sam’s tactics because they are boring and uninspired but in the end it was these tactics that help retain our premier league status. He was able to guide a team who has been in the bottom three for most of the season out of the relegation zone and create a team that can challenge and win games. He’s brought spirit, fight, quality and most importantly stability into a team that lacked in all four areas and that is why he has been one of the best managers we have had in the past few years.
So now we can look forward to playing in the premier league next season with a manager who can take us higher with the backing of the club and the backing of the fans. The future looks bright for Sam Allardyce and Sunderland AFC.