I've been playing a lot of Texas Hold 'Em recently, a game with almost infinite possibilities and as with all casino games it is as much a matter of luck as it is skill and mind-games. I'd class myself as a fairly cautious player who will always have a look at the flop for a cheap stake, but will rarely bet any further unless I have a decent hand or have had one too many beers.
In August of 2002 Peter Reid pushed all of his chips to the centre of the table in a last ditch attempt to save his Sunderland career on transfer deadline day. £10M was the reported stake, and a hand consisting of Tore Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart was what Reid had put all his faith in.
By October Reid's stint at the table was over. Instead of the two Aces he believed he had up his sleeve, it turned out he had a hand that consisted more of a King, in the shape of Stewart and a Joker by the name of Tore Andre Flo. Reid was bust.
Stewart's Sunderland career was something of a slow burner as the footballing guru Howard Wilkinson struggled to put together a forward line from his over-sized and over paid squad. Quinn was on the verge of retirement, Phillips was clearly disillusioned, Flo and Bellion were, well, just crap and Stewart was in and out of the side like the hokey-cokey. The less said about the 02/03 season the better, as new boss Mick McCarthy was unable to stop the rot and the club finished that term with a fifteen game losing streak and the inevitable embarrassment of relegation.
Many Sunderland fans, myself included, expected Stewart to immediately flourish in the second tier of English football as he undoubtedly had the class to bag fifteen to twenty goals a season. McCarthy however had other ideas as he started the new term with Kevin Kyle and Michael Proctor as his first choice striking partnership.
This wasn't the only questionable decision by Thick Mick at the start of the 03/04 season as the gaffer seemed to have lost the plot. One week Michael Gray was captain, the next Jason McAteer had the armband. He also bigged up fan favourite Julio Arca's defensive abilities in the press one week, only to go and utilise him as a winger that weekend. Bizarre.
This early season inconsistency was to come back to haunt Sunderland that season as, despite going on a good run, the club could only manage to finish third in the league and were ultimately undone by Crystal Palace in the playoff semi finals. Cheers Jeff.
Much of Sunderland's success that season was down to a partnership forged between Kevin Kyle and the mercurial Marcus Stewart. A partnership very much in the mould of Quinn and Phillips in their pomp. Well imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say. Stewart managed to notch fourteen league goals from twenty-eight appearances. This was also the season that SAFC also decided to give the FA Cup a go and managed to make the Semi Final, where we undone by a Millwall side inspired by a certain Tim Cahill. What I would give for another cup run, sort it out Steve.
The following season Sunderland were to hit the ground running, learning from their mistakes the previous term and were to run away with the league, winning the Championship with an impressive haul of ninety-four points. Again Stewart was to play a huge part in this promotion side, striking up a partnership with Stephen Elliott, who replaced an injury struck Kyle, and managed sixteen league goals.
Stewart was a natural goal scorer with a fantastic footballing brain to boot, that rare breed of player that as a fan when you saw them baring down on goal you knew the ball was going to hit the net. The Bristol born forward scored goals wherever he had been and always went on to become a firm favourite with the fans at his respective clubs.
Marcus was also incredibly humble. Having helped Sunderland back to the promised land of the Premiership, Marcus could easily have collected a wage whilst warming the bench but Stewart knew he didn't have the legs for the top flight and made a move to his boyhood Bristol City in June of 2005.
So whilst Reid was to suffer as his last chance gamble in 2002 backfired, Sunderland fans were to eventually benefit as Stewart proved his class and notched a number of important goals as the Black Cats fought for stability under Mick McCarthy.
Sunderland Season Review 2004-2005 (via SAFCMark)