When Paolo Di Canio arrived, his job was deemed impossible. Three matches later and his side are dreaming of a top-half finish.
He was appointed under a cloud that quickly dispersed, suggesting a brighter future for a club who had grown accustomed to gloom.
And should Paolo Di Canio’s outstanding reign as Sunderland manager continue, their fans may end the season wondering why they fretted so much for its majority.
Two wins from his first three games – and a pretty impressive effort against Chelsea to boot – has seen Di Canio hailed as the perfect remedy for a club slipping fast into the mire.
The fact that he had never previously managed in the top two divisions was quickly forgotten, and now they are on a trajectory that may see them end the current campaign in the top half.
Yes it is a long shot. But a look at Sunderland’s remaining fixtures suggest three are winnable (two of which are very winnable) and one is on the last day of the season so anything can happen.
Home matches against Stoke City and Southampton look to be the balm on a wound the Italian has quickly treated. While their next match, away to Aston Villa, is one the Villains dare not lose and the Black Cats can approach with a confidence that escaped them under Martin O’Neill.
Thoughts may remain that Di Canio is a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution; that his enigmatic style was exactly what a relegation-threatened club needed, but that over the course of a whole campaign his crazy cajoling may lose its impact.
But there is another theory. And that is that Di Canio is a very good manager; a temperamental one, no question, but someone who understands the game’s characters as much as the game itself.
Four more wins may be beyond them this season. But should they beat Villa next Monday, their roll may take them not just clear of relegation, but into a realm their fans could only have dreamt of for most of the season.
They have every chance of winning their next three games and drawing at White Hart Lane on the final day.
Their fans may say I am tempting fate. But after a campaign when all they did was look down, perhaps they should be as optimistic as I am.
It looks safe to do so now. And after so much gloom at the Stadium of Light, surely it is time to think a little brighter.
How good do you think Di Canio can be for Sunderland? And where do you think they will finish this season?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald