SportMail’s Chris Young analysis: What we learned from Sunderland’s season

Sunderland's Jermain Defoe (left) and Seb Larsson celebrate the win over Newcastle
Sunderland's Jermain Defoe (left) and Seb Larsson celebrate the win over Newcastle

Until the last two months, the 2014-15 campaign was not one to savour.

Being honest, it was too often a chore to watch every minute of yet another season of relegation dogfight toil.

Of all the five successive wins over the Magpies, that game may have been the most enjoyable.

Now that the smoke has cleared though and anxiety levels returned to normal, what were some of the key aspects to take from 2014-15?

Highlight of the season:

The sheer relief after Premier League survival was assured with that doggedly determined stalemate at Arsenal.

Watching the clock tick down at an agonisingly slow pace was a torturous experience at the Emirates.

But while staying up is no cause for celebration after eight years in the Premier League, seeing Sunderland’s players fight so ferociously for the club was heartening.

Lowlight of the season:

There were some pathetic capitulations – Southampton, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace were all harrowing afternoons.

But, for me, the FA Cup defeat at League One Bradford was the most humiliating episode in the final days of Gus Poyet’s reign.

Bradford simply wanted to win more and with a quarter final at stake against Championship Reading, it was a squandered chance which inevitably pushed Gus Poyet towards the exit door.

Best match:

Without question, the Stadium of Light derby win.

It had all the required ingredients - a stunning goal for the ages, a sun-fuelled Bank Holiday weekend and an atmosphere which was as electric as anything witnessed since the Peter Reid era.

Of all the five successive wins over the Magpies, that game may have been the most enjoyable.

Worst match:

The two that stand-out are the stalemates at newly-promoted Burnley and Leicester.

With a touch of ambition, Sunderland could easily have come away with maximum points, rather than settling for a stalemate.

It was one of the shortcomings which ultimately contributed to Poyet’s downfall after a record-equalling total of Premier League draws left Sunderland constantly struggling to pull away from danger.

Best signing:

Without question, Costel Pantilimon, even if goalkeeper looked to be the last area Sunderland needed to strengthen last summer after Vito Mannone’s contribution to the Great Escape.

It took Pantilimon until November to break into the starting XI, but from then on, he was superb – using his size to completely dominate his area and making several telling saves.

There will doubtless be interest in the Romanian this summer, but he’s proved to be a Bosman bargain.

Worst signing:

Ricky Alvarez, even if a problematic knee injury has held him back and limited him to just five Premier League starts.

The Argentine international is clearly blessed with an abundance of natural ability, but he hasn’t been fit enough to enjoy a sustained run in the side and when he has featured, he hasn’t looked suited to the physicality of Premier League football.

Best opposition seen:

Southampton ran out 8-0 winners over Sunderland, yet that record-breaking rout was more attributable to the Black Cats imploding than the quality of the hosts.

For me, Manchester City were a cut above any other side Sunderland faced, despite going behind and facing a fifth successive defeat on Wearside, with Sergio Aguero particularly mesmerising as they rallied to win 4-1.

Key area to be addressed in the summer:

Sunderland will clearly need a couple of central defenders to boost an ageing back-line. But the goals for column makes it crystal clear why Sunderland found themselves in yet another relegation battle, with only Burnley netting less.

Everyone who regularly watches Sunderland has been crying out for years for an injection of pace in the side, and that, coupled with extra guile, has to be addressed.

Hope for next season:

I wasn’t necessarily surprised that Sunderland were involved in another relegation scrap after losing 16 players at the end of last season and then having to bring in nine new ones.

After such wholesale changes (again) it was probably inevitable that Sunderland needed to beat the drop first and foremost, particularly with Lee Congerton needing to alter the make-up of the club’s scouting and academy system.

But with a less dramatic close season in the transfer market ahead, hopefully Sunderland can begin to breathe a little easier.

First thing now though is to get a new man in charge!