The 1998/99 season has been a common stop-off point for Roker Relives recently. Perhaps in this time of strife it is what is desperately needed; a journey to happier, more simple times, when supporting Sunderland was a privilege as opposed to the current chore. In light of this, we once more venture back to the days of Reidy, Bally and Quinny (in striker format), and Sunderland's first ever visit to the Reebok Stadium.
Still in the midst of their season-opening unbeaten run, Peter Reid's Black Cats travelled to Bolton in high spirits. The absence of the influential Kevin Phillips had done little to sway their momentum; indeed, the following game, the red and whites thrashed seven goals past Oxford United.
This game, however, went against the general theme of the season. Where usually that year Sunderland sought to wear teams down through the sheer number of attacks they launched upon the opposition goal, this was much more of a smash and grab victory.
The home side, having sold star striker Nathan Blake in midweek, were simply unable to convert the plethora of chances they created. They opened the game in a particularly vigourous manner and Paul Butler, so often that season a rock at the heart of the Sunderland defence, was fortunate not to be dismissed for a particularly rash challenge on The Trotters' Bob Taylor.
Having weathered a rather fierce Lancashire storm, the Cats pounced. Chris Makin's long searching ball inevitably found Niall Quinn and, with the help of his strike partner Danny Dichio, the ball ended up at the feet of Allan Johnston. 'Magic', equally adept with either foot, promptly rifled an effort with his right into the bottom corner.
Just seven minutes later, the hosts found themselves further behind. South African defender Mark Fish had any amount of trouble dealing with an Andy Melville clearance, and manage to handle the ball in amongst his self-inflicted confusion. Ever the opportunist, Niall Quinn played on and slipped the ball Keith Branagan in goal; two-nil Sunderland.
To their credit, Colin Todd's Bolton refused to let their misfortune halt their endeavours. But once again, the Sunderland defence held firm. Most notably, Michael Gray cleared a Fish header off the line just after the break, whilst Michael Johansen struck the post, and the visitors seemed set to depart with a 2-0 win.
But the footballing gods were truly against the home side on this day. Peter Reid was grateful in his post-match victory, stating he felt his old side Bolton had been hard done to. When Sunderland's third and final goal went in, one would be hard pressed to disagree with him.
As the game edged towards its latter stages, Michael Bridges, once the prodigal son of Sunderland, now recently retired, sealed the victory. Quinn was again involved, linking up with Michael Gray before playing Bridges in. The youngster, never shy of confidence in those early days of his career, hammered the ball home, with Branagan unable to deflect the shot wide of the target. Three-nil it stayed, and the Black Cat bandwagon rolled on for another week.
Todd's Wanderers would go on to replicate Sunderland's fate of the previous season, losing out on promotion at the final hurdle. Sneaking into the play-offs in sixth place, his side disposed of Ipswich Town before facing Watford in the final at Wembley. Goals apiece from Nick Wright and Allan Smart were enough to secure The Hornets' second successive promotion, and Bolton were consigned to another season in the First Division.
Sunderland, of course, went up as champions. Now it would seem the tables have somewhat turned. Steve Bruce's side's terrible run of form has seen them drop into the lower half of the Premier League; meanwhile Owen Coyle has seemingly transformed Bolton into a top ten side.