The Top Ten: Opening Day Fixtures

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Its so close you can almost touch it. If, like me, you've been counting down the days or even hours till the 2011/12 season kicks off, your wait is almost over. All the pre-season talk and optimism is in the balance as the lads take to the field against Liverpool with the dreams of thousands weighing heavy on their shoulders.

This got me thinking, which in turn became this piece of botched together words, what were my favourite opening day fixtures? Not necessarily victories, but just matches that stand out in memory for one reason or another.

Join me after the jump as we count down my top ten...

Number 10: Sunderland vs Leicester City, 96/97

You will have to excuse me on this one as it is a bit of a guilty pleasure. You see the 1996/97 season was the first that I had a season ticket. Combine this with Premier League football at Roker Park and my eleven year old self was on the brink of exploding with excitement. 

Unfortunately, yet somewhat predictably, Sunderland were held to a 0-0 draw by Leicester that day, but I still got to see my heroes earn their first Premiership point since I had began to follow the side.

Number 9: Sunderland vs QPR, 98/99

The 1998/99 season remains probably my favourite season. The brand of football that Peter Reid had this side playing was a joy to behold. Putting the heartbreaking play-off final defeat of the previous season behind them Sunderland ran away with the league, amassing an incredible 105 points. 

The season was kickstarted with a home win over QPR with a solitary Kevin Phillips penalty the difference between the two sides that day.

Number 8: Sunderland vs Burnley, 90/91

No, not 1990/91, but 1890/91! Sunderland joined the Football League for the first time and played their first ever league game at Newcastle Road infront of 6,500 fans. Whilst Burnley were to run out 3-2 winners that day it was an important day in the history of the club who would go on to achieve so much in the early days of the Football League.

Number 7: Sunderland vs Derby County, 46/47

The first full season following the suspension of the League due to World War Two. As a symbolic gesture, the 1939/40 fixture list was reinstated and as such Sunderland took on Derby at Roker Park. Sunderland fans were keen to see football back on the agenda and as such just under 50,000 fans attended the opening day of the season and saw their side run out 3-2 winners in an entertaining game.

Number 6: Coventry City vs Sunderland, 04/05

Back to Coventry folks, but this time at Highfield Road and a Coventry side managed by the familiar face of Peter Reid. This was the first year of the "Championship" and this game sticks in the mind because of yet another all too predictable poor start. Also seeing Peter Reid celebrate two goals against Sunderland, the side his managerial career is synonymous with was hard to take. 

Sunderland were undone that day by the stupidity of George McCartney who needlessly handled the ball in the box, gifting Coventry the lead in the final ten minutes from the penalty spot. The home side then made the points safe with a second goal in the dying stages of the game. 

However SAFC were to have the last laugh, bouncing back, AGAIN, from an opening day defeat to go on to win the Championship under Mick McCarthy.

Number 5: Brentford vs Sunderland, 87/88

Having faced the embarrassment of relegation to the Third Division Sunderland needed to bounce back at the first time of asking, there was no alternative, so a winning start was essential. Thankfully, for a change, Sunderland were not to disappoint on their trip to Griffin Park in August of 1987.

A Keith Bertschin goal was enough to take the three points and set The Black Cats on their way to being named Champions. 

Number 4: Swindon Town vs Sunderland, 89/90

The 1989/90 season is one that will live long in the memory of those that were there to witness the drama that was to come. The season itself started with a journey to The County Ground where just over ten thousand fans watched goals from Gates and Hawke seal a 2-0 away win for the North East side. 

The three points earned were just the start of a seventy-four point haul which was enough to earn Sunderland their place in the play-offs. Following victory over the arch enemy, Sunderland were to face, who else but Swindon, in the Play Off Final where an Alan McLoughlin goal was enough to earn Promotion. 

Or so it seemed. Swindon were later found guilty of a number of breaches of League rules relating to illegal payments. Their punishment? Their promotion was overturned and awarded to Sunderland!

Number 3: Bolton Wanderers vs Sunderland, 09/10

Playing Premier League football for the third successive season, Sunderland were looking for improvement following a disappointing sixteenth place finish the previous term, where relegation was avoided at the expense of the "Barcelona of the North" - Newcastle. With Steve Bruce at the helm there was a sense of newly found optimism as money was spent on players such as Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole and Darren Bent.

It was the expensive hitman which proved to be the difference on the opening day of the season as Sunderland came away with all three points from the Reebok, as his strike five minutes into the game was enough to have the home crowd booing come the fulltime whistle.

Number 2: Coventry City vs Sunderland, 06/07

Ah the turbulent 2006/07 season, who can forget what we went through that term! Roy Keane's appointment was some weeks away, so Sunderland  made the trip to The Ricoh Arena under the temporary management of Niall Quinn.

Despite a spirited effort and going a goal ahead through Daryl Murphy, Sunderland were to succumb to defeat, a loss which had myself and the majority of Sunderland fans worried for the season ahead. If only we knew at the time the rollercoaster that lay ahead as The Black Cats were to go from bottom of the league to winning the Championship.

Number 1: Sunderland vs Tottenham Hotspur, 07/08

I don't think I will ever forget this game. Having returned to the top flight under the tutelage of Keane expectations and excitement among the fans was high. This was a game where anything was possible, hell even Paul McShane managed to keep Dimitar Berbatov quiet, so much so that new signing Craig Gordon had the debut he could only dream of as he was rarely tested.

The game seemed destined to finish as a hard fought point as Sunderland struggled to make their superiority count, but the debutante Michael Chopra had other ideas. Despite having a frustrating afternoon the £5m man was to neatly trap Ross Wallace's cross deep into injury time before firing the ball past a helpless Paul Robinson in the Spurs goal - cue the Stadium of Light erupting as the home fans went wild. 

Which was your favourite? Vote in the poll below!

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