MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Sunderland completed its latest escape from relegation in the English Premier League on Wednesday — and consigned bitter northeast rival Newcastle to the second tier in the process.
A 3-0 win over Everton guaranteed safety for Sunderland with a game to spare this season, justifying its decision to hire survival specialist Sam Allardyce as manager in October.
Under Allardyce, who has yet to be relegated from the English top flight in 25 years as a manager, Sunderland lost just one of its last 10 matches — and that was against champion Leicester.
“It’s pretty miraculous,” Allardyce said.
Newcastle — much to Sunderland’s delight — and Norwich were demoted instead, joining already-relegated Aston Villa in going down just as the Premier League begins its new domestic and international TV deals worth a record $12 billion over the next three years.
“We have just secured the financial side of staying in the Premier League, which is the most important thing this season,” Allardyce said.
Norwich’s 4-2 win over Watford on Wednesday proved to be in vain, with Sunderland staying four points ahead. Norwich lasted just one season back in the top flight.
“The story for us is that as a club, we have dropped short for a variety of reasons,” Norwich manager Alex Neil said. “We have made vital errors in games at crucial times and the recruitment has not been as good to strengthen the squad.”
Newcastle needed a favor from out-of-form Everton at the Stadium of Light, but a free kick from Patrick van Aanholt and two goals from fellow defender Lamine Kone eased Sunderland to victory.
It remains to be seen if Rafa Benitez, hired by Newcastle in March, triggers the break clause in his contract that allows him to terminate his three-year contract as manager. Benitez was coaching Real Madrid at the start of the season and is one of the most reputed managers around, making it hard to envisage him spending a season in England’s second tier.
“We are devastated at our relegation from the Premier League, as I know every single person connected to this football club will be,” Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley said in a statement.
“I want to thank all of the fans for the support you have shown for the club you love throughout the season, in spite of this massive disappointment and underachievement.”
Allardyce gets a measure of revenge on Newcastle more than eight years after he was fired at St. James’ Park just eight months into a three-year deal, having been criticized for his brand of football. And he gets one over Benitez, a manager he has openly clashed with through the years.
The only things at stake in Sunday’s final round of games in the Premier League are the last Champions League qualification spot, between Manchester City, Manchester United and — at least mathematically — West Ham, and the Europa League qualification berth.
Christian Benteke scored in the second minute of injury time to earn Liverpool a 1-1 draw against Chelsea in the other game. Eden Hazard put Chelsea in front, his fourth goal in fourth games to continue his resurgence in a disappointing campaign for last season’s player of the year in England.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5