Entering 2016, Sunderland was in a funk. The Black Cats had lost five straight Premier League fixtures and were in the relegation zone facing an uphill battle.
What a difference five months make.
On Wednesday, Sunderland defeated Everton 3-0 at the Stadium of Light to secure its place in the Premier League and, as an added bonus that will never be forgotten in northern England, relegate Norwich City and crosstown rival Newcastle United to the Championship. The Black Cats were among the top flight of English football's bottom three for 237 days this season but, somehow, achieved survival.
Sunderland's turnaround is largely down to Sam Allardyce, who was appointed as the Black Cats' manager following the resignation of Dick Advocaat. Under Big Sam's guidance, the club slowly but surely became one of the Premier League's toughest to beat, losing only twice since the start of February.
Meanwhile, as Sunderland was steadily improving, Norwich and Newcastle were heading in the other direction.
At Carrow Road, in a match that kicked off at the same time as Sunderland's victory, Norwich defeated Watford 4-2 but was obviously left with nothing to celebrate. Supporters of Alex Neil's side were forced to keep an eye on the score elsewhere and could only watch as the Black Cats slowly lowered the Canaries into the coal mines of the Championship.
Norwich relegation marks its fourth of the Premier League era, tying Crystal Palace's record. At the individual level, the drop is particularly embarrassing for Sebastien Bassong, who, since 2005-06, has unbelievably tasted descent six times.
It is at St. James' Park, however, where Sunderland's survival will be felt the most. Newcastle's Tyne-wear rivalry with the Black Cats is among English football's fiercest, and the fact that Allarydyce's side hammered the final nail into the Magpies' coffin will surely be converted into chants.
Making matters worse for Newcastle is that the relegation marks its second since the 2008-09 Premier League season and its second under the ownership of Mike Ashley, the controversial founder of Sports Direct who admitted in March that he "regrets" buying the Magpies and who is the scorn of the club's supporters.
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