Pre-Season Prediction: Last August I predicted Sunderland would earn mid-table finish, perhaps just outside the top 10, as Paolo Di Canio appeared to have invested in some interesting foreign talent.
Finishing Position: 14th, which sounds comfortable enough. It was anything but.
2013-2014 Quick Review
Di Canio added no fewer than thirteen new players to the squad last summer, including the likes of Emanuele Giaccherini, Vito Mannone and Jozy Altidore, but the majority of the signings failed to settle and Sunderland endured a disastrous start to the season. Leading striker Steven Fletcher was injured and the team managed to gain just one point from the opening seven games, leaving the Black Cats rooted to the bottom of the table and already at risk of being cast adrift. Rumours of dressing room unrest combined with a negative playing style forced the board's hand, and Di Canio was sacked to be replaced by Gus Poyet.
Poyet made a bright start, with the team offering a better quality of football almost immediately, but a run of positive results (beating rivals Newcastle and Manchester City) was followed by another poor spell, and Sunderland found themselves bottom at Christmas with just 14 points on the board.
A run to the League Cup final and a phenomenal spell of goalscoring from Adam Johnson, combined with the performances of on-loan Fabio Borini and Ki Sung-yueng, lifted the spirits once again and helped bring further league wins including completing the double over Newcastle, but the Black Cats were edged out in the final at Wembley after Manchester City came from behind. This was followed by yet another slump and left Poyet needing a miracle to close a seven point gap from the final six games to avoid relegation.
Enter Connor Wickhham. The forgotten youngster was brought back in to the side after a loan spell in a last ditch attempt to solve the goalscoring crisis, and he obliged. Wickham grabbed a brace in a thrilling draw at Manchester City, before scoring a late winner to defeat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho's first ever home league defeat in England. As their relegation rivals buckled under the pressure of the dog-fight, Sunderland went on to beat Cardiff, Manchester United and West Brom to complete the greatest of great escapes, and secure another season of Premier League football.
Departures: Phil Bardsley (Stoke), Jack Colback (Newcastle), Craig Gardner (West Brom), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Goalscoring striker - with Steven Fletcher feeling his way back to fitness, Jozy Altidore struggling for goals and Fabio Borini returning to Liverpool after his loan spell, a quality striker is required. Poyet may feel Connor Wickham is the answer, but the smart money is on a new arrival.
Central midfielder - The loss of Colback to Newcastle and Gardner to West Brom leaves Sunderland short of options in central midfield, especially when you remember Ki has returned to Swansea, and that Lee Cattermole is likely to spend a fair proportion of the season either suspended or injured.
Back-up goalkeeper - To replace Westwood.
Right back - To replace Bardsley.
Summer So Far
Poyet had lost some important players so there was work to be done without falling in to the Di Canio trap of too many signing. Thankfully the board and manager have moved quickly to make some sensible additions which address some of the needs listed above.
Former fantasy favourite Jordi Gomez has been brought in from Wigan to provide spark from midfield, while Costel Pantilimon has arrived from Manchester City to provide competition and back-up to Vito Mannone. The best signing so far must be the excellent Billy Jones, who chose to leave West Brom to replace the outgoing Bardsley, and will provide some real steel down the right flank. The three new signings come with Premier League experience - something few of last season's signings could boast - and all arrive on free transfers.
A move for a striker and another central midfielder is still required to ensure the club don't face yet another relegation battle next season. Reports suggest Poyet could speak to both Liverpool and Swansea in an attempt to sign Borini and Ki on permanent deals, while a return for former loanee Marcos Alonso has also been suggested. As well as arrivals, the club will be looking to trim the squad and wage bill, which could well involve the sale of many of the players who were brought in last summer.