Football Features

Sunderland close to Premier League return. Remember the team that ended Mourinho’s 77-game unbeaten run?

By CJ Smith

Published: 14:50, 11 May 2023

It’s somewhat ironic that the only thing more famous than an unbeaten run is the game which ends it.

Back in April 2014, bottom-of-the-league Sunderland beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, bringing Jose Mourinho’s 77-game home unbeaten run with the Blues to an unceremonious end — all despite Samuel Eto’o firing the west Londoners into the lead after just 12 minutes.

Having looked dead and buried, that win over Chelsea kick-started a remarkable four-game winning streak from the Black Cats, lifting them from 20th in week 34 to 14th by the season’s end.

They would suffer back-to-back relegations in 2017 and 2018, spending four years in League One, though they are now in the Championship play-offs and potentially just three games away from a Premier League return.

But where are Gus Poyet’s rag-tag band of miracle workers from 2014 now? Read on to find out.

Vito Mannone

Age: 35

Position: Goalkeeper

Current club: Lorient

Mannone was fantastic during the 2013/14 season, playing a key role in keeping Sunderland up and earning both Supporters’ Player of the Year and official Player of the Year awards. However, the following season saw a drastic loss of form and confidence, culminating in a horrorshow performance in Sunderland’s 8-0 defeat at Southampton.

The Italian was replaced in the starting XI by Costel Pantilimon and despite the odd flurry of performances, he never really won his place back, departing for Reading in July 2017.

Mannone’s most successful spell since then was on loan at Minnesota United, where he won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award and earned a place in the MLS Best XI for 2019 having kept 11 clean sheets in 35 appearances for the Loons. Another loan spell with Esbjerg followed in 2020 before Mannone left Reading permanently, joining Monaco and now Lorient where he recently enjoyed a run as number one.

Santiago Vergini

Age: 34

Position: Right-back

Current club: Retired

With his first cap for Argentina already under his belt, Vergini joined Sunderland with a budding reputation and initially, things went well for him in the North East. Signed on loan as a centre-back, injuries forced Vergini into a right-back role during the 2013/14 season and the former Estudiantes man performed admirably as he helped the Black Cats stave off relegation and reach the League Cup final.

Vergini’s loan was made permanent that summer but things really fell apart from there. Just like Mannone, his Sunderland career was seriously haunted by that 8-0 defeat to Southampton, in which he scored a spectacular own goal, volleying the ball beyond his hapless goalkeeper from the edge of the box to open the scoring.

A loan move to Getafe followed and Vergini has since turned out for Boca Juniors, Bursaspor and San Lorenzo, leaving the latter at the end of 2021 after a loan spell with Atletico Tucuman.

John O’Shea

Age: 42

Position: Centre-back

Current club: Retired

Having joined from Manchester United in 2011, O’Shea became a real stalwart of Sunderland’s long Premier League stay and lined up at centre-back for this famous win in London.

The Irishman spent seven seasons at the Stadium of Light, including sticking with the club when they were relegated to the Championship in 2017. However, with Sunderland suffering a second consecutive relegation, O’Shea left the club to join Reading in 2018 before retiring on April 30, 2019 — his 38th birthday — bringing the curtain down on a career which yielded 684 club appearances, 118 international caps and five Premier League titles.

O’Shea is now assistant manager of the Irish national team as well as a coach at Stoke City.

Wes Brown

Age: 43

Position: Centre-back

Current club: Retired

Brown spent years trying to cement a place at Manchester United but ultimately fell victim to injury and the famous partnership between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

Things didn’t improve too much on the fitness front with Sunderland — as he never played more than 25 league games in a single season — but Brown did play a huge role in this win over Chelsea, making a match-high 11 clearances and two interceptions.

He left Sunderland in 2016 and spent a short time with Blackburn Rovers as a player-coach before joining Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters. Brown is now involved in various football-related media ventures.

Marcos Alonso

Age: 32

Position: Left-back

Current club: Barcelona

Then on loan from Fiorentina, it was Alonso’s deflected shot which allowed Connor Wickham to level the scores after 18 minutes. The Spaniard’s excellent form with the Black Cats helped him regain his place with his parent club thereafter and, of course, Alonso then eventually earned a move to Chelsea in 2016.

The 32-year-old certainly has his fair share of defensive critics and had to battle it out with Emerson Palmieri and then Ben Chilwell for his place in the side, but his attacking prowess made him a valuable member the squad, scoring 29 goals for the Blues across all competitions.

He called time on his Chelsea career last summer, moving to Barcelona where he is about to pick up the La Liga trophy.

Lee Cattermole

Age: 35

Position: Defensive midfield

Current club: Retired

Despite coming through at Middlesbrough, Cattermole went on to become part of the furniture at Sunderland, making 258 appearances for the club and sticking with them all the way down to League One.

The tough-tackling midfielder finally left the Stadium of Light last summer to join Dutch side VVV-Venlo on a free transfer, making 11 Eredivisie appearances for the club before retiring.

Sebastian Larsson

Age: 37

Position: Central midfield

Current club: Retired

A master of free-kicks, Larsson spent six years with Sunderland — scoring 14 times across all competitions — before departing for Hull City in 2017.

The Sweden international played 40 times for the Yorkshire side in 2017/18 but despite being offered a new contract by the Tigers at the end of the season, he departed for AIK in his homeland.

He helped the club win the Swedish title in 2018 stayed there until retiring at the end of 2022.

Jack Colback 

Age: 33

Position: Central midfield

Current club: Nottingham Forest

As a local boy, Jack Colback had iconic status on Wearside within his grasp, only to do the unthinkable at the end of the 2013/14 campaign by joining Newcastle United on a free, becoming the first player to make that particular move since Lionel Perez in 1998.

Since then, it’s fair to say things have nosedived for this talented midfielder. Colback initially did okay with the Magpies but suffered relegation to the Championship in 2016. His last senior appearance for Newcastle came in 2017, with Colback spending 18 months on loan at Nottingham Forest before joining permanently in the summer of 2020. He became a big part of Forest’s side and scored in their Championship play-off semi-final en route to promotion last season but he hasn’t played too much in the Premier League.

Fabio Borini

Age: 32

Position: Left wing

Current club: Fatih Karagumruk

The ultimate rollercoaster footballer, Borini had already taken in extremely mixed spells with Chelsea, Swansea, Roma and Liverpool before rocking up at Sunderland.

The Italian scored seven Premier League goals in 2013/14 — including the winner from the penalty spot in this one — to help salvage the Black Cats’ top-flight status, and he returned to the club with much less success in 2015.

Since leaving Sunderland again in 2017, Borini has embarked on a shock and rather uninspiring career with AC Milan, before joining Hellas Verona at the start of 2020. Borini spent half a year with Verona and joined current club Karagumruk in January 2021, thriving in the 2022/23 campaign with 19 goals and eight assists in 28 league matches.

Connor Wickham

Age: 30

Position: Striker

Current club: Cardiff

Wickham joined Sunderland from Ipswich Town in 2011 with a ton of Championship and youth international experience under his belt already but never quite managed to fulfil his potential.

That said, he did score a number of hugely important goals for the Black Cats. In fact, just days before netting the equaliser at Stamford Bridge, he scored a brace in a 2-2 draw away at Manchester City while he also netted later that month in a 4-0 win over Cardiff City, helping spearhead Sunderland’s surge to safety.

Wickham left Sunderland for Crystal Palace in 2015 but made just 50 appearances across six years due to injury, leaving after a loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday. Returning to football with Preston in September 2021, Wickham has had four clubs in the past two years, also playing for MK Dons, Forest Green and current side Cardiff in six-month increments.


Jozy Altidore 

Age: 33

Position: Striker

Current club: New England Revolution

With just three goals in 52 appearances, Jozy Altidore did precious little in a Sunderland shirt. He did, however, win the penalty which led to Borini’s winner in this one — an act which sent Mourinho’s assistant, Rui Faria, into a complete meltdown.

Altidore has resurrected his career since leaving Sunderland in 2015, scoring 79 goals in 173 appearances for Toronto FC, helping the Canadian side to the 2017 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield titles, as well as two further MLS Cup appearances (2016 and 2019), before joining New England Revolution.

Emanuele Giaccherini

Age: 38

Position: Attacking midfield

Current club: Retired

Giaccherini arrived at Sunderland from Juventus with a gleaming reputation, generating great excitement around Wearside. However, while his time with the Black Cats offered up a good smattering of individual brilliance, the Italian generally failed to hit the heights expected of him.

The 38-year-old left Sunderland in 2015 and played for Bologna, Napoli and Chievo Verona before retiring.

Ondřej Čelůstka

Age: 33

Position: Centre-back

Current club: Sparta Prague

Čelůstka was brought on in injury time against Chelsea to run the clock down and was generally used as a rotation player during his single-season loan spell with Sunderland.

Since then, he’s turned out for 1. FC Nürnberg in Germany, Antalyaspor in Turkey and currently turns out for Sparta Prague.

What about Chelsea?

It’s also worth mentioning the star-studded Chelsea XI from this match, which included the likes of Eto’o, John Terry and a young Mohamed Salah, as well as Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Andre Schurrle all coming on from the bench.

This was also the game in which goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer became the oldest player to represent Chelsea in the Premier League at 41 years and 195 days old, beating the long-standing record held by Graham Rix.

NB: The Sunderland line-up also included Adam Johnson, whose section has been omitted due to his 2016 conviction.