THE PROMOTION that never materialised last season needed to be on the cards and going strong if Jack Ross was going to survive as Sunderland manager.

Whether it was the fans’ growing frustrations with certain results early in the season, or the impatience of owner Stewart Donald to see the Black Cats improve on the failings of 12 months ago, in truth both probably played a part in the Scottish boss’ demise.

The lingering effects of the disappointments of missing out on promotion can be traced back to the hammer blows of the last campaign.

After the Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Wembley to Portsmouth in March, Sunderland only won three of their remaining nine League One games to fall out of contention for a top two spot.

Form had been erratic so was certainly not ideal when they went into the play-off final against Charlton, losing during extra-time after another lacklustre display, and that was in front of a potential investor ahead of a Championship return.

Throughout the summer Ross had to try to shape a squad that would go better than the previous year, while behind-the-scenes he was constantly having to deal with takeover talk. Would Donald stay in control? If there was to be a change, would Ross still be in charge?

It has emerged since that the strains of that summer took their toll on Ross and, while Sunderland’s start was never dreadful, he did lose some of the sparkle that made him popular initially.

There were adjustments made to his playing staff, with Jordan Willis, Lee Burge, Conor McLaughlin, George Dobson and Joel Lynch all brought in, and they contributed to a steady if unspectacular start.

From the opening 13 games of the season under him there was just one defeat – and that was a heavy one - at Peterborough United.

Sunderland couldn’t deal with the trickery and creativity of County Durham-raised Marcus Maddison and after that reversal supporters started to ask more questions, given there seemed to be little evidence to suggest there had been improvements from last season. Luke O’Nien and Charlie Wyke were both sent off that day, leading to accusations of ill discipline as frustrations started to grow.

Then there was chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ directed at Ross when a late Aiden McGeady equaliser prevented a defeat to financially stricken Bolton. That was the point where he must have known things had turned sour.

Ross said: “That’s football isn’t it. No problem. I’m a 43-year-old man and I’ve been through a lot in life so I can deal with these things, trust me.

“I’m not flippant about it because, like any human being out there, criticism is not nice for any person no matter what walk of life they are in. But strength of character is important.”

He was sacked not long after, following the second defeat of the season at Lincoln five matches later - even though there had been victories in the EFL Cup to raise spirits at Premier League clubs Burnley and Sheffield United.

Donald had options, including former striker Kevin Phillips and Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel, but Phil Parkinson was asked to deliver what Ross had struggled to do.

And it was a decision that must have seemed a masterstroke when Parkinson’s first home game in charge ended in 5-0 win over Tranmere, a bigger margin of victory than his predecessor had managed to enjoy during his time in charge at the Stadium of Light.

Rather than that proving to be the start of the promotion surge, it was quite the opposite. By the end of the year Sunderland had won just one of their next 13 games, including the FA Cup defeat to Gillingham, and the pressure soon increased on Parkinson’s shoulders.

There had been concerns raised when he was appointed about the ‘negative’ style of play he tends to adopt and those were a stick he was regularly beaten with during that slump. By the time Bolton, his former club and still sitting bottom because of points penalties, left Wearside with a point on Boxing Day, it seemed like there was no way back.

He vowed not to walkaway and he retained a confidence that he could turn Sunderland around, having just endured the unwanted calls for him to be replaced by Kevin Phillips from the stands as “we want Parky out” rang out around the Stadium of Light.

It was hardly the Christmas present he had wanted and it seemed a matter of time before Donald would have to make yet another managerial decision, with the supporters clearly of the belief that he was not the right man to take Sunderland up.

But a few days later Sunderland travelled to Doncaster. It was an afternoon when everyone associated with the club, and nationally, envisaged 4,000 away fans turning up greater heat on the boss but the players came up with a performance that showed they wanted to fight for the boss.

Without the creativity of Aiden McGeady - who had spent the majority of December looking for a new club and training with the Under-23s because Parkinson was not happy with his apparent impact on the dressing room - it was time for Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch to shine.

Rather than turn on Parkinson, the travelling fans were left applauding the spirit and the performance that delivered a 2-1 victory at the Keepmoat that proved the turning point of Parkinson’s reign.

From starting that afternoon down in 15th, Sunderland had began the turnaround even though it was also an afternoon when Donald went public with his decision to sell up because supporters’ groups had issued a statement beforehand calling for change.

Rather than worry about what was happening in the boardroom, Parkinson’s challenge was to focus on the results. He had spent much of the early stages of his tenure asking for patience, knowing he wanted to bring in a number of new faces in the January window.

He did that. Kyle Lafferty, Antoine Semenyo, Bailey Wright, Declan John and Josh Scowen all arrived, while Tommy Smith was a later addition when Wright suffered injury and that was to prove a blow because he had made an impressive start to his loan from Bristol City.

What mattered was whether Sunderland could reignite promotion hopes and they did that courtesy of just one defeat from 15 to put themselves back in touch with the top two.

And then, in typical Sunderland fashion, just as hope returned among the fans, results have turned sour again. With nine matches remaining - hopefully to be played after this suspension in play is over - there has been a blip at just the wrong time.

A failure to win any of their last four matches, losing two at leaders Coventry and then out of sorts Bristol Rovers, has led to a fall back out of the play-off zone.

All of the continuity that Parkinson had managed to rely on during the good run of form has come to an end, with players; performances levels dipping and an acceptance that he has had to leave some of his regulars out.

Sunderland still have the players within their squad capable of reclaiming a promotion spot, but for whatever reason they have lost their way again and the scepticism has returned.

This has been a memorable period for Sunderland for the wrong reasons, it will be hoped Parkinson can finally bring a smile back to everyone’s faces on Wearside once the play resumes in League One.