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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.

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.

Former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke hit with 12-year ban

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 24:  FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke listens to questions during the Post-meeting of Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace on July 24, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Another member of FIFA’s embattled corps has learned his punishment for egregious ethics violations.

Jerome Valcke, the longtime secretary general of football’s governing body, is going to be away from the game for 12 years, banned from the sport by FIFA’s independent ethics committee.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

The 12 years are less than a lifetime but more than the recommended nine years. Valcke was dismissed from his post in January.

From the BBC:

The decision has been made by Fifa’s independent ethics committee following allegations of potential misconduct related to sales of World Cup tickets.

During the investigations, several other acts of potential misconduct arose, including travel expenses policies and regulations.

Valcke’s ban is four years longer than the ones issued to Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Allardyce on using USMNT’s inexperienced Yedlin at RB: “It’s a massive ask”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on February 6, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
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Sam Allardyce knows a relegation battle when he sees one, and even an injury crisis has him nervous about using inexperienced USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin.

The speedy American wingback is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and Sunderland’s table position has its manager wondering if he can afford to use the 22-year-old.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

Billy Jones is injured, and the Black Cats did not firm up their right back depth in the transfer window. Ex-Celtic back Adam Matthews is among the other options, and played 150 times for the Bhoys.

And Yedlin had just 56 professional appearances and was less than three years removed from two years at Akron when he moved to London.

From the Sunderland Echo:

“We’ve got Billy who has a lot of experience, and obviously we’ve got DeAndre, who has very little experience at this level.

“DeAndre has a lot of qualities, but without that experience, it’s a massive ask to perform at the consistent level that you need to at this stage of the season, particularly with the pressure we’re all under.”

You have to love that following his train of thought would continue with, “but we don’t have any better options, so let’s see what happens!” It’s not quite Guus Hiddink saying of Chelsea youth like Matt Miazga, “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in“, but Allardyce is right in saying the relegation plight is a different pressure than Chelsea’s much safer spot.

This is a big chance — and a big ask — for Yedlin, who replaced Jones in last week’s comeback draw with Liverpool and has only seen Spurs improve since he went on loan. How has Yedlin fared this season? In terms of overall stats, he hasn’t been very good at all, though advanced stats site Squawka says he is slightly better than Jones.

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But in terms of straight-up defending, the USMNT man has done the job a lot better.

Sunderland Yedlin

It would be classic Big Sam to improve his lot in the Premier League safety race because injury forced him to remove Jones.

Go get ’em, kid.

Hiddink on Zouma absence: “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in”

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Chelsea hosts Newcastle United this weekend, its first game since the season-ending injury to young defender Kurt Zouma.

The 21-year-old Frenchman has arguably been Chelsea’s best center back when it comes to marking and defending this season, and manager Guus Hiddink has to find an alternative for the big man.

[ MORE: Klopp updates Sturridge, Coutinho fitness; Backs owners ]

While Gary Cahill and John Terry have the familiar names of the bunch, Hiddink won’t limit himself to veteran replacements. Certainly he could slide Cesar Azpilicueta inside, though that would sacrifice about a half-foot, and Newcastle likes to use big striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

He also has 20-year-old USMNT back Matt Miazga — who’s been given squad No. 20 — and said the following in Friday’s pre-match press conference:

“We have no fear of bringing youngsters in.”

Could we see Miazga in the fold on Saturday? Hiddink’s comments sure sound like he’d rather not, but all it takes is an injury or an inkling.

Miazga gave an interview to Chelsea’s web site last weekend where he described his play.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I really like it, it is a higher level, the ball moves much faster but yeah, it is good. All the guys are very welcoming and I am really enjoying it.

“My game is definitely built on winning aerial challenges and tackles. As a centre-back you have to have an aerial presence and win a lot of headers, and my job is to win duels and not let opponents score, so every time I try to get a good tackle in and make my opponent know that I am there and it is not going to be an easy time trying to go by me.”

The ball moves much faster, and we’re hoping to see Miazga move with it sooner rather than later. Will it be this weekend.