My Favourite Match – When Sunderland turned on the style to take a huge step towards safety

What is your favourite Sunderland game of all time? Here, Stephen Kennedy takes us back to 2016 when the Black Cats needed victory at home to Chelsea to stand any chance of staying up

Despite being an age to have been able to enjoy the Super Kev days, I was a bit of a late-comer to football, and the first season I got hooked was 2001/02, otherwise known as the start of the first implosion of Sunderland in the 21st century.

The first few years of my Sunderland suffering involved us decimating our own record points low, and Roy Keane’s brief promise of something better, so my favourite game skips to Sam Allardyce, unquestionably my favourite ever Sunderland manager.

2016. 3-2. Chelsea.

This was a game which simply must have been scripted. Knackering ourselves up to give away a goal to everyone’s favourite radgie, Diego Costa, hitting back with an absurd Wabhi Khazri volley, doing his best Phillips impression from 15 years earlier. Naturally, we bugger it up again immediately, and go in at half time 2-1 down.

But the second half, that is the stuff of red and white dreams. Under Allardyce we’d changed, we played with our chests puffed out and, contrary to every fan of any team he’d managed previously, we were playing quick, attacking football.

The second half felt like an onslaught from Sunderland, and 20 minutes in Fabio Borini gets on the end of a Patrick van Aanholt cross, strikes it towards goal and it limply rolls over the line, hitting roughly 15 Chelsea defenders en route.

That’s when the noise ramped up. Over the remaining half an hour, I have never heard the Stadium of Light so tempestuously loud, and still the battering continued, before finally, a moment that gives me goosebumps even now, the ball breaks to Defoe and he slams it away like he was playing with his mates down the park.

There are videos of the sound the crowd made at that moment taken from Keel Square, a sound that will live with me until my last day and what I’m desperate for us to get back.

Of course, to close the drama, we also saw John Terry sent off, meaning he might have missed his final games as a Chelsea player (until he changed his mind), and to cap it all off, as Newcastle’s stalemate at Aston Villa delivering the fatal blow to their survival hopes, you had Aleksandar Mitrović’s heartbreaking interview, live on TV to enjoy afterwards.

The Everton game which followed may have confirmed it, but this was the game that made me think things had changed, and although the resulting years were blighted by a parade of charlatans, it gives us a glimpse at what we can be, if the stars align for us again.

Stephen Kennedy