Four and a half years on from the Saigon debacle, they finally met again. Roy Keane, now at the Sunderland helm once occupied by Mick McCarthy, took his side to the Midlands for the encounter the nation's media had long been waiting for. Alas, they were disappointed. No fireworks or obscenities this time, just two handshakes bookending an intriguing one-all draw.
Keane traveled to Wolverhampton after almost three months in football management. Hitting the ground well and truly running, racking up subsequent away victories at Derby County and Leeds United, the Irishman's luck had taken a slight turn for the worse. Five defeats in their last ten left the Black Cats in the bottom half of the table; a win at Molineux would be very much welcome.
But McCarthy's Wolves would offer a stern test. Having taken over the reigns the previous summer, the Yorkshireman had enjoyed a respectable return to his managerial career after having been sacked on Wearside just eight months earlier. Despite both managers doing their utmost to play down the considerable pre-match hype, one would reasonably suggest a victory would be greatly enjoyed by either man.
As it was, both were left disappointed somewhat, though perhaps Keane will have gone away the happier of the two. Having disposed of Colchester United in a comprehensive 3-1 victory the previous weekend, Sunderland continued their recent inconsistency, and started on the back foot.
Their side that day was one both vastly different from the current crop, but also a world away from the notorious '15-pointers' of the previous season. Keane's arrival on Wearside coincidence with a flurry of transfer activity. At Molineux, new boys Lewin Nyatanga, Liam Miller, Ross Wallace, David Connolly and Stan Varga, back for a second spell at the club, all started, whilst Graham Kavanagh made an appearance as a substitute.
Bearing this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprisingly that the red and whites were struggling to find their feet. McCarthy's Wolves realised this early on, and immediately exerted their dominance. Only Darren Ward in the Sunderland goal prevented the deadlock being broken earlier, but there was nothing he could do about the game's opener.
With the clock ticking towards half-time, and Keane relatively content with his side's ability to weather a considerable Black Country storm, youngster Jemal Johnston launched a spanner firmly into the works. Picking the ball up around thirty yards out, Wolves' American midfielder turned and launched an unstoppable thunderbolt past Ward into the top corner, and McCarthy's side led at the break.
After the break, it was much of the same. Ward, having wowed onlookers with a simply superb save two weeks earlier in Sunderland's home game with Southampton, was performing heroics once more. Having kept Jody Craddock, another Sunderland old boy, out superbly in the first half, the Welsh goalkeeper made a series of saves to ensure his side didn't fall further behind.
The home side, though, had no-one but themselves to blame for not making sure three points were secured. Mark Little found space on the wing, sending a ball into the box where Leon Clarke found even more. Completely alone with just the goal to aim at, Clarke somehow conspired to fire the ball within touching distance of Ward, who once again foiled Wolves' attack.
It was to prove costly. Almost predictable, as the clock struck eighty minutes, the visitors equalised. Having rode their luck throughout the game, Sunderland saw no reason to depart from tradition, with Stephen Elliot's shot taking a wicked deflection on its way past Matt Murray in the Wolves goal. Thus, much to the media's chagrin, the game ended with each manager having to share the spoils.
McCarthy's side would finish seventh at the end of the season, narrowly missing out on a play-off place. The return fixture at the Stadium of Light saw Sunderland register a 2-1 victory, but McCarthy's managerial prowess would be rewarded the following season when he secured Wolves' promotion to the Premier League.
Keane, meanwhile, oversaw another two months of eccentric results. However, his side then found form...and how. One defeat in seventeen propelled the Black Cats to the top of the Championship and, in only his first season as a manager, the Irishman took Sunderland up as champions.
Of course, now, much has changed once more. Keane has long since left the banks of the Wear, and now finds himself without a job following an unsuccessful stint at Ipswich Town. McCarthy still presides over events in the Midlands currently, but, should his side lose on Saturday and edge ever closer to relegation, that may not remain the case for much longer.
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