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Sunderland’s escape: Tracking the key moments in Black Cats’ dramatic season

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With today’s win over West Brom, Sunderland became the first team since the 2004-05 Baggies to survive after spending Christmas at the bottom of the table. The close quarters of this season’s bottom helped the Black Cats, but over time, that will be forgotten. For years into the future, fans and pundits will be referring to this as the club’s great escape.

Here’s how Sunderland’s improbable  run played out, from August to May:

August 17 – The Black Cats open the season as victims of a smash-and-grab, with Fulham taking full points out of the Stadium of Light. Though they drew at Southampton a week later, a 3-1 loss at Selhurst Park in round three proved the turning point of Paolo Di Canio’s tenure at Sunderland.

September 21 – Sunderland’s 3-0 loss at West Brom caps a disastrous opening month of the season. At 0-1-4, the team’s Premier League obituary’s already being written, with famous Sundlerand fan Jonathan Wilson (author of Inverting the Pyramid) expressing the ironic hope the team can “best” the 15-point season that saw the club relegated in 2006.

September 22 – Paolo Di Canio is gone. Five games into the season, having won two of 12 since being brought in at the previous campaign, the former Swindon Town boss is fired. In search of its next manager, Sunderland would lose its next three matches.

October 8 – After two weeks’ speculation linking him to the job, former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Gus Poyet is appointed as Di Canio’s successor. After winning two of his first four games in charge, Poyet lost three of four, leaving Sunderland at the bottom of the table in mid-December.

December 14 – Sunderland ends a two-game slide with a 0-0 at Upton Park, a result that stirs discontent about Sam Allardyce’s job at West Ham. The result begins a seven week,  16-point run, with the Black Cats surviving in both the FA and League cups.

February 1 – Sunderland claims a 3-0 win over rival Newcastle at St. James’ Park, leaving the team unbeaten in four and 4-4-1 in its previous nine. It’d be 87 days before the Black Cats claimed their next Premier League victory.

March 2 – Sunderland lose the Capital One Cup final to Manchester City, but along the way  (and during an FA Cup run), the club piled up games in hand. For months, they’d prove supporters’ only consolation as their club struggled to find its form.

March 31 – If Sunderland can’t win these, they’re destined to go down. You’d forgive a supporter for thinking that after the team’s 2-1 home loss to West Ham. Though Gus Poyet felt his team “better in every respect,” West Ham still left with full points against the league’s cellar dwellers. It’s the third in a five-match losing streak Sunderland would carry into mid-April.

April 3 – Sunderland hear its penalty for playing an ineligible Ji Dong-won earlier in the season: a six-figure fine. The leniency surprised Gus Poyet, but the Black Cats’ survival hopes are bolstered by avoiding a points deduction (hopefully).

April 12 – An own goal by Wes Brown leaves the Black Cats 1-0 losers to visiting Everton. In last place and winless in league since Feb. 1, Sunderland’s matches in hand are the club’s only reason for home.

April 16 – Let the dream begin. In last place coming into the match, Sunderland gets two goals from Connor Wickham to briefly take a late 2-1 lead on Manchester City. A late Samir Nasri goal made it 2-2, but Sunderland still take a point from the then-title favorites.

April 19 – Handing Chelsea its first loss at home under Jose Mourinho in 77 matches, the Black Cats continue their climb out of the cellar, with Fabio Borini’s 82nd minute winner giving the team a 2-1 upset against another title frontrunner.

May 3 – Thanks to a Sebastian Larsson goal, the Black Cats take a 1-0 win out of Old Trafford. With a huge goal difference edge on Norwich, Sunderland needs only one point in its last two games to survive.

May 7 – Who needs one in two when you can claim three all at once? Goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini lead Sunderland to a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, giving the team 13 points in its last five games. Going into the last round of the season, the Black Cats sit 15th, their four-game winning streak confirming another season in the Premier League.

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.

MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-1 FC Dallas (video)

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Marlon Hairston #94 of Colorado Rapids celebrates after scoring a first half goal past Chris Seitz #18 of FC Dallas during a game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): In keeping with the the theme of “we never really learn anything in MLS, it just kind of happens,” both the Colorado Rapids or FC Dallas had the chance to make a massive statement in the two sides’ ongoing race for the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield (FCD entered Saturday’s clash at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a three-point lead), but they ultimately settled for a 1-1 draw, and we settle for “wait until next week, maybe we’ll actually learn something then.” At least the goals were great, though — Marlon Hairston opened the scoring by rounding the goalkeeper with traffic in all directions, and Victor Ulloa unleashed a rocket from well outside the penalty area to equalize late on. In that sense, the 90 minutes were befitting a first-versus-second matchup. The draw means the Rapids are unbeaten in their last 15 league games, but the LA Galaxy, who won away to the Portland Timbers and inched two points closer to the league’s elites, are ultimately the day’s biggest winners.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

26′ — Akindele goes inches wide of the far post — Quick, decisive movement around the penalty area is the only way to create that half-yard of space needed to fire a shot off.

33′ — Hairston breaks out, Zimmerman makes the dramatic block — Hairston was thisclose to having a one-on-one chance on goal, but Walker Zimmerman made a spectacular recovery run and an even better last-second sliding tackle to deflect Hairston’s shot narrowly wide of the post.

44′ — Hairston rounds Seitz to make it 1-0 — Composure, quickness, finesse. Hairston displayed it all on this goal, his second in as many games.

82′ — Ulloa unleashes a blast from 25 yards out f0r 1-1 — If not for the net on the goal, Ulloa’s strike might still be traveling at an ever-so-slightly upward trajectory for the rest of time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sam Cronin

Goalscorers: Hairston (44′), Ulloa (82′)