December had just begun and Sunderland truly were down in the dumps.
Since the start of the 2011-12 Premier League Season, they'd managed just two wins—one which came against a last-placed Bolton. They'd chalked up 11 measly points in 13 weeks of play and it seemed destined that the Black Cats were in serious relegation trouble.
Fed up with frustration and inabilities to perform on the pitch, Martin O'Neill became the new manager of Sunderland—replacing Steve Bruce, the first casualty of a mediocre season.
The expectations on O'Neill couldn't have been simpler really—stop losing and start winning.
His first match would be a home game against fellow relegation zone battlers Blackburn, who took the lead after 17 minutes via Simon Vukcevic and led for the majority of the match.
When Vaughan scored in the 84th minute, O'Neill must have been relieved that his side had not churned out another defeat, and his management at the club didn't start out with a loss.
Well, imagine then what he must have felt when in the 90th minute of play, Sebastian Larsson grabbed the winner for the Black Cats and for the first time in a little while, the home fans went absolutely crazy.
Martin O'Neill's victorious leap in the air still remains one of the images of the season.
From there, it's been up and up for Sunderland, who now sit eighth on the Premier League table and undefeated at home since that incredible win over Blackburn.
And believe it not, since that first match under O'Neill, the Black Cats are leading the Premier League. They've chalked up more points in that time than any other club in the league—including the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs.
With a mouth-watering home match against Arsenal over the weekend, and then a replay of that match in their Fourth Round FA Cup duel, fans of the Black Cats must surely see one, if not both games as possible wins.
At home, they managed to topple league leaders Manchester City with another 90th minute thriller; one wonders if they will repeat a similar dosage for the Gunners—a side with Champions League dreams on the line.
Whatever the case, Sunderland fans must be simply delighted with their side's current progress and their performances under Martin O'Neill. What he's achieved already with the club is nothing short of incredible, and Black Cats fans must surely feel that the future is bright.
Under O'Neill, they are simply a different side from the one that started the year. They are not tackling liabilities, and they pose as genuine threats when attacking.
If Sunderland continue this stellar form, they are not only guaranteed a top-half finish, but most likely a finish in the top six—sitting amongst the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
And with a home game to Arsenal this week, whilst Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle all face tough games, it stands to reason that the UEFA Champions League isn't out of the picture yet for the Black Cats—especially if they continue to perform like they have done in recent weeks.
It might be hopeful, and it might just be dreaming, but considering the success that Martin O'Neill is having with this Sunderland side, it's not the most unlikely scenario.
The most unlikely scenario would have been the Black Cats losing once in their last eight and conceding four goals since Christmas.
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