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Phillips Recalls 'Telepathic' Sunderland Strike Partnership

When top class Premier League strike partnerships are discussed, the names of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn will never be far away from the discussion. Here, the former recalls what made it so special.


Kevin Phillips has lifted the lid on the 'telepathic' understanding that formed the bedrock of his legendary Sunderland strike partnership with Niall Quinn.

In an article for, Phillips recounted his own experiences playing as part of a front two at the Stadium of Light when it was far more common than it is today.

He recalled:

I had great success playing alongside Niall Quinn at Sunderland. Our 'little and large' partnership, as people called it, produced plenty of goals and some really fond memories.

We won the First Division title, finished seventh twice in the Premier League and, with the help of Niall's assists, I won the Golden Boot after scoring 30 goals in the 1999/2000 campaign.

However, it surprises a lot of people, when they ask why we were so successful together, when I say we never once worked on our partnership on the training pitch.

When I arrived at Sunderland Niall wasn't 100 per cent fit, so, when he was back up to speed, we were just thrown together to see what would happen - and we gelled instantly.

Niall knew what I was going to do and I read what he was going to do. Call it telepathy or whatever you like, we just clicked.

At that time there was a great team spirit at Sunderland. We all socialised together at weekends and when you're friends off the field it makes it a lot easier to play together on it.

He was at a stage in his career - similar to where I am now - where as long as the team was winning and he was playing his part in making that happen, he was happy.

If [goals] came his way he'd take them but I think he saw in me a young player wanting to make a name for himself and he was happy to help me find the net.

In many ways football is quite cruel. It's pushing on for 15 years since Phillips, a then bundle of youthful energy, arrived at Sunderland and started banging in goals at a furious rate instantly.

Looking back, I know that we knew that we had something very special, and I have far more fond Kevin Phillips memories than any other player I've seen in the red and white. But I can tell you this with total regret: I know I didn't properly appreciate him when we had him.

I knew how good he was, obviously. I had his name on the back of more than one shirt. I was a teenager, I was allowed. I can vividly remember revering him and his ability to smack in goals from all angles. But I didn't appreciate him.

I suppose you never do - especially when you're a kid and you still think football, the world in general actually, owes you something special - but it's a regret nonetheless.

We've never had a player since who was even fit enough to lace his boots. It's trendy to hate Darren Bent nowadays I know, but even he wasn't anywhere near the same class. Bent was a really top class poacher of goals for Sunderland, but Phillips was that and more. He had the technique and the brain to go with his nose for goals, and he didn't even seem to need an actual chance in order to score.

That last part is what made him such a talisman I think. As a fan, so long as you could see him on the pitch you never considered yourself out of a game. It didn't matter if the team were playing badly and creating nothing because he didn't need them to. He could totally change a game of football on his own at any second during his time here. That's what set him apart from the likes of Bent.

Time has really shown us how privileged we were to see Phillips in his pomp at our club. I only hope we get to see another player worth comparing to him to someday, so that this time round I can actually be humble enough to properly appreciate him.

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