My Favourite Game: Sunderland 4-1 Chelsea

Scott Heavey

What better way to take a break from the daily links to increasingly obscure footballers from teams that you have never even heard of during these summer months than with a nice dose of nostalgia. Well you’re in luck as each week you will hear tales from each of the Roker Report writers who will wax lyrical about their favourite game and yours truly was given the nod first.

There were a number of games which came to mind when I began to think back over the eighteen years that I have been attending Sunderland games now; Sunderland's 6-0 win over Millwall in December of 1995, my first game, the five goal thriller over Burnley in 2007 or possibly the first home win over Newcastle in my lifetime courtesy of Keiran Richardson's thunderbastard of a freekick.

However the game that I have opted for, the one that sparks the most vivid and treasured of memories took place in the 99/00 season as Gianluca Vialli's Championship challenging Chelsea came to the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland had suffered a humbling welcome back to the top flight from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the term, succumbing to a comprehensive 4-0 defeat at the hands of their hosts. However Peter Reid's side would inflict revenge in emphatic style in the reverse fixture and give a performance for Sunderland fans to savour.

I was a huge Gianfranco Zola fan back at the turn of the century. The diminutive forward's craft, guile and genius on the ball had me mesmerised as a fifteen year old and I was always excited to have an opportunity to see the little magician play live. However it was Sunderland that would have me off my seat, gawking in awe from my vantage point in the North-East corner alongside my father as the Black Cats came flying out of the traps and took the game to Chelsea from the off.

In fact there was barely a minute on the clock when Sunderland opened the scoring. Thank god these were the days when I was in the Stadium well in advance of kick-off rather than often cutting it fine these days with that final pint in the pub more often than not proving too irresistible.

Forty-Four seconds, to be exact, was all it took for Eric Roy to dance his way through Chelsea's midfield with all the poise and grace of a Gianfranco Zola, with his meandering run resulting in an inch perfect, slide rule ball into the path of Niall Quinn who finished the move with a stroke of his instep.

Any pessimism and trepidation any Sunderland fan may have felt coming into the game began to melt away as the Black Cats went on to play with real verve and swagger, looking themselves to be the side that was pushing for the Premier League title.

Chelsea squandered a number of chances following Quinn's opener, Zola, Poyet and future SAFC star Tore Andre Flo missed chances to pull their side level before Kevin Phillips was to make them pay and take matters into his own hands.

Kevin Phillips' dipping, swerving, out-of-this-world twenty-five yard volley in the twenty-fourth minute is quite easily my favourite Sunderland goal. The way in which Phillips executed that volley with expert technique and also the vision to recognise the opportunity was simply breath taking. As the ball found its way, sweetly, into De Goey's top corner the Stadium of Light erupted. I could scarcely believe my eyes.

Rather than sit back, content with a two goal lead until the break, Sunderland kept their foot firmly on the accelerator and continued to press Chelsea back with a real desire and intent to go for the kill. The Black Cats' bloodthirsty tactic would continue to pay dividends as only a desperate goal-line clearance from Bernarde Lambourde prevented a third goal in the thirty-fifth minute. It didn't take long however for the sieve-like Chelsea defence to ship yet another goal however.

The Quinn and Phillips combination was in full effect for Sunderland's third as the big Irishman gathered a deep cross from Michael Gray on his chest before rifling in a shot on De Goey's goal. The Dutchman managed to parry the shot however Phillips was on hand to turn in the ball from a tight angle at the far post. 3-0. THREE BLOODY NIL.

By this point I was eagerly awaiting half-time if only take use of the respite to catch my breath and also dare to blink. Chelsea's defence no doubt felt the same.

However Sunderland continued to press, relentlessly attacking Chelsea's goal with wave after wave of inventive offensive play and would be rewarded, yet again, for their swashbuckling endeavour.

In fact the celebrations for the third goal had barely calmed down when Sunderland managed to grab their fourth not only of the afternoon but of the first half. Chelsea failed to deal with a Nicky Summerbee corner kick as their clearance only fell to an eager Quinn on the edge of the area who allowed the ball to drop onto his left foot, dispatching his volley through a crowded penalty area and into the back of the net with De Goey helpless.

The feeling in the concourse come half time was an incredible mixture of delight and disbelief. I had never in my short time following the club seen Sunderland put a side such as Chelsea to the sword in such a convincing and entertaining manner. Grown men were standing aghast with their half time beer barely able to put into words what they had just witnessed.

It was impossible for the second half to equal the first period, Christ, if we're being honest that first half contained more entertainment than entire seasons that we have since endured.

Gustavo Poyet would claim a consolation goal for the despondent visiting side but in truth the game was dead and buried in that first forty-five minutes. Other than the 7-0 demolition of Oxford United in '98 I can't remember being able to sit back and enjoy a Sunderland fixture without the constant, nagging fear in the back of my head that we could still make a hash of it and this was Chelsea. No disrespect to Oxf... oh who cares about Oxford.

In fact the score line could have been even further extended were it not for two De Goey saves in the dying moments of the game to deny Kevin Phillips his hat trick.

To this very day if I am to close my eyes I can still picture that Kevin Phillips volley. The scene is burnt onto my retinas and it never fails to bring a smile to my face when the ball loops over De Goey's head and into the top corner. Magic.

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