On October 9 2015, Sam Allardyce became the first man to manage both Newcastle United and Sunderland when he bagged the latter's job.
Sam Allardyce is something of a polarising figure in English football. The charismatic Englishman has had his moments, most notably at Bolton Wanderers where his team played exciting and attacking football. However, ‘Big Sam’ in the modern day is seen as something else entirely: a relegation survival expert. The reason he divides opinion is because, to achieve his aim, he will often resort to a style of football that is a throwback to the olden days. It isn’t pretty, but more often than not it was effective. This was first evident in his brief reign at Sunderland, which saw him keep the Black Cats safe from the drop.
With six years having passed since his appointment at the Stadium of Light, we look back at a rollercoaster season for the club and Big Sam himself.
The 2015-16 season was not going well for Sunderland at all. In their first 8 fixtures, they registered five losses and three draws; such a run of results simply screams relegation form.
Clearly the owners felt something had to change, which is why manager Dick Advocaat was fired during the international break. His replacement? Sam Allardyce, whose appointment was made official on October 9, 2015.
The brief to Big Sam was simple: ensure the club survive in the Premier League. Given he was only on a two-year deal, it was clear that avoiding relegation was the only goal.
Incidentally, the appointment made Allardyce a history maker: he was now the first man to have managed both Newcastle United and Sunderland. The crossing of the Tyne-Wear derby divide had, amazingly, never been done till that point.
Given his stints at Newcastle and later West Ham United were forgettable, expecations from Allardyce were low to begin with. But that would change over time.
The upturn in fortunes wasn’t immediate; in fact, under Allardyce, the club yo-yo’ed in terms of form and results. His stint began with a 1-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion, and the next game was a derby against Newcastle.
Sunderland were keen to win that one and it showed, as they hammered their rivals 3-0 at home. However, far from being a turning point, it proved to be a false dawn.
Losses to Everton and Southampton followed, before they picked up wins against Crystal Palace and Stoke City. Yet a consistent run of form did not come, as they lost their next five games on the trot.
However, the losses were expected: four of the five came against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. It wasn’t ideal but, given the club’s circumstances, it was expected.
This was followed by back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Swansea City but again, a run of decent results was not coming. Their next four games saw two losses (to Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City) and two draws (Liverpool and Bournemouth).
The turning point of their season, however, came at home against Manchester United. They shocked the Red Devils 2-1, and it was the beginning of a golden run of form in their final stretch of games.
After the United win, they would lose only two of their remaining 12 games. Seven draws and three wins, including a 3-2 defeat of Chelsea, saw them end the season at 17th – just one position above the drop zone.
To make things even sweeter, the team that finished 18th and got relegated were none other than Newcastle United. And Allardyce was clearly the man of the moment.
His approach to the season earned him plaudits aplenty for his organised, disciplined approach to the game.
Sadly for both club and manager, this season was about as good as it got. Allardyce left the job to take up the position of England manager. He lasted one game and was fired after being involved in a betting scandal.
Sunderland would get relegated to the Championship the following season, and shocked everyone by being relegated for a second time in their first season in the second division.
The club are currently still in League One, although ownership changes do paint the hopes of a brighter future.
Allardyce, meanwhile, is all but retired from management. He took on similar survival-first jobs at Crystal Palace and Everton, being successful at both clubs.
But he suffered the first relegation of his career with West Brom in the 2020-21 season, where even he could not save the side despite overseeing an upturn in form.