Sunderland secured their Premier League survival on Wednesday with a 3-0 victory over Everton that condemned bitter local rivals Newcastle United and Norwich City to relegation and sparked wild scenes of celebration at the Stadium of Light.
It was the fourth season in a row that Sunderland’s fans had to endure a gruelling relegation battle before popping the champagne corks, and their victory was a crushing blow for Newcastle and Norwich, whose 4-2 win over Watford on Wednesday proved in vain.
Sunderland’s win, which came courtesy of two goals from surprise hero Lamine Kone, moved them up to 38 points with one match remaining, four clear of Norwich and Newcastle.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce, a master of steering teams clear of danger, led the Sunderland fans in celebration, pulling off his jacket and flexing his muscles to the crowd after the final whistle.
“There were a long few months winter months,” he said. “We became a team that was difficult to beat, who did not like losing and continued the run constantly for the last few months.”
Sunderland came into the game knowing victory would secure their survival regardless of other results and they dominated a lacklustre Everton from the start.
They took the lead six minutes before halftime when Patrick van Aanholt’s free kick was completely misjudged by Everton keeper Joel Robles before nestling in the net.
It was 2-0 three minutes later as Kone lashed home a lofted ball into the box before the Ivorian started the celebrations in earnest 10 minutes after the interval when he converted from a corner which Robles palmed straight to him.
It was a painful end for Norwich, who had lost their previous four league matches without scoring, but found goals easy to come by in a comfortable win over Watford that came too late.
They fell behind to an early strike from Troy Deeney but goals from Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani and a Craig Cathcart own goal put them in command.
Odion Ighalo pulled one back for Watford before Mbokani dinked in Norwich’s fourth.
The win, however, counted for nothing and left boss Alex Neil cursing an end-of-season collapse that condemned his team to the second tier.
“It is severe disappointment,” he said. “In recent matches we have known it was going to be a difficult match. We had it in our hands five matches ago but we came up short.
“The story for us is that as a club, we have dropped short for a variety of reasons. We have made vital errors in games at crucial times and the recruitment has not been as good to strengthen the squad.”
In a very different atmosphere to the intensity of the relegation battle, Liverpool’s Christian Benteke headed a stoppage-time equaliser in a 1-1 draw against last season’s champions Chelsea at Anfield.
Belgian Eden Hazard had earlier lit up a mid-table clash between the division’s eighth and ninth-placed sides with a superb individual goal.