This posting has been affected by technical problems but has still managed to inspire some lively responses comparing the Roy Keane and Peter Reid eras of the recent history of Sunderland AFC. The comments have also been re-posted (though the little thumbs-up marks already awarded are, sadly, missing!).
It is now four years ago – give or take a couple of weeks – since Keano signed his contract at the Stadium of Light. He took over a squad of misfits and underachievers who had lost their first five games, including a league cup game at Bury, then the lowest of all Football League clubs. No wonder that after being talked through the players’ strengths and weaknesses, he joked that he should have held out for twice as much money -and set about replacing as many as he could. Pete Sixsmith looks back on the appointment as right decision, right time …
When Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium took over, we were promised a “magic carpet ride”.
After dispiriting defeats at Southend and Bury, the magic carpet was distinctly threadbare and we looked like a team heading for the third level of English football.
Quinny then decided that managing footballers was not as easy as breeding racehorses and decided to appoint a world class manger”. We now know that O’Neill had been indecisive (I believe SAFC had something like seven meetings with him – ed) and Allardyce had bottled out of leaving his comfort zone at the Reebok.
We were expecting a high profile foreign coach to come in; we got a man with no managerial experience but with, shall we say, a reputation.
When Roy Keane took over, it’s fair to say that views on his appointment were split. “Hardly world class,” said some, while others were encouraged by his record as a winner and his forthright views on the managers he had worked under.
He had an international break to bed in and he made an immediate impression by bringing in five players on deadline day – Miller, Wallace, Connolly, Varga and Kavanagh. Celtic and Republic of Ireland connections in all of them, clearly an approach of go for who you know rather than plunge into the unknown.
On Saturday Sept 9, the Keane road show rolled into Pride Park, Derby, along with 4,709 Red and Whites. I had not been intending to go, but the appointment of Keane encouraged me and many others, so much so that the Durham Branch ran two buses rather than the original 29 seater that had been booked.
The great game on the way down was “Pick the team” and there were limitless combinations from the many players the club now had on their books. We knew that Dwight Yorke was unable to play, but there was great debate about which of the Famous Five would pull on the stripes.
The was huge media interest in the game, with camera crews filming Sunderland fans getting off their coaches and inviting vox pops on the accession of Keane. The mood of doom and gloom that had pervaded those of the red and white persuasion after the dismal relegation and the atrocious start to the season was beginning to clear and the belief among many (but not all) was that the carpet was possibly about to take off.
Not in the first half it wasn’t, as a shaky start became a disaster as Steve Howard (a Mag!!) headed across the goal for Oakley to give Derby the lead seconds before half time. Whatever Keane said to them in the dressing room worked, because we were a much tighter unit after the break.
Chris Brown levelled after 61 minutes after great work by Dean Whitehead and was booked for celebrating with the Sunderland fans. Three minutes later, Ross Wallace slotted home after a corner, took off his shirt and twirled it round his head, as 4,709 fans went mad. The Keane bandwagon was rolling!!
The team that day makes interesting reading; Alnwick; Delap, Cunningham, Varga, R Elliott; Whitehead, Kavanagh, Miller, Wallace; Connolly, Brown. Subs; Ward, Collins, Leadbitter, S. Elliott (for Connolly 82 mins.), Hysen. Not one of them is still at the club and some of them left very, very quickly.
It was a great start, which continued at Leeds on the Wednesday night and then hit a bit of turbulence in autumn and winter. However, after a couple of nifty acquisitions in the January window and a host of departures, the wagon started rolling again in the New Year and up we went as Champions.
Keane has his detractors but I thought he was just what the club needed at that time. His charisma and his determination to succeed were inspirational and I doubt we would be where we are at today had we appointed someone else. Quinn took a risk on Keane and Keane took a risk by taking a job that nobody really seemed to want.
It was great season and that day at Derby was one that many Sunderland fans will remember as being paramount in the club’s climb back to respectability after the horrors of the 15 point season.