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Forgotten Black Cats: Sam Aiston

Sam Aiston was one of Peter Reid's first signings as Sunderland manager, joining on a free transfer in 1995 having previously been released by Newcastle United.

Sam Aiston

The flame-haired winger's move from our local rivals barely raised a thought during a quiet summer on Wearside. Paul Bracewell's move across the water took the back pages, joining Sunderland a third time in his career and this time as the assistant to our new gaffer, who had masterminded our escape from relegation only two months beforehand.

Although the season would end in positive fashion with a league title, Aiston was handed his chance at in the first team following a mixed-bag of opening results.

One win in the opening four games saw Aiston named on the substitute bench in an away game at Ipswich Town, making his debut by replacing Mickey Gray in the 64th minute with Sunderland already staring defeat in the face.

He would retain his place on the bench, making a further two late appearances from there at Roker Park during the win over Southend and the home draw to Portsmouth. However, those late appearances had not yielded a start, let alone the desired impression on the home crowd - he would not appear again until late October.

Appearing as second half substitute for Steve Agnew in an impressive 2-1 home win over Barnsley, goals from Craig Russell and Lee Howey moved us to the heady heights of fourth. Eventually, though, Aiston would gain significant game time as an early injury to Martin Smith in an away game at Stoke meant he got eighty minutes to show off his skills. Unfortunately for Sam, a poor performance from the team lead to their first defeat in six games.

As the revamped and impressive Black Cats went from strength to strength, it became a rare occurrence to see Aiston gain anything more than a five minute cameo here and there.

Promotion to the Premier League limited Aiston's chances even more. Much like in the previous season, he began the 1996-1997 season a regular on the bench, even making an appearence in the opening day draw to Leicester City. The regular appearences on the bench though were most likely helped by the introduction of five subsitutes in the top division, as opposed to only three in the Endsleigh League Division One the season beforehand.

Despite the club now able to name a matchday squad of sixteen, Aiston did eventually drop from the squad and had to become content with a place in the reserve line-ups. With the young winger slowly becoming a forgotten figure at the club, he failed to register a single appearance in the second half of the season as Peter Reid’s Black Cats struggled against the drop where we were, of course, eventually relegated with a then record amount of 40 points.

As our first ever season began at the Stadium of Light, Aiston headed to Chester on loan. Playing 14 games over the course of his spell there, he saw a decent amount of success at the Deva Stadium - so much so that he was re-signed on loan by their new Manager Terry Smith.

However, come the end of the 99/00 season, Aiston returned to Sunderland without a goal to his name.

The notion that the free transfer signing wasn’t near Division One standard, let alone Premiership standard, become more of a reality. Nonetheless, he was taken to high-flying Division Two side Stoke City by Gary Megson for a month to help with their promotion push. Within that month though, he was quickly sent back after a poor start to the season. At this point it became apparent that his career had hit a crossroads.

Finally and thankfully for Sam though, a loan move to Shrewsbury Town in December 2000 would give him the stage he needed to showcase his talent. An impressive ten game stint meant The Shrews signed the winger on a permanent deal for a price of £50,000 the following summer. It was at New Meadow where he really found a home, and he made 168 appearences, scoring 7 goals, becoming a long serving and well thought of member of the club. His impressive form at Shrewsbury eventually took him to Tranmere Rovers in 2005, where he played on the left wing for almost the entire season on Merseyside. Suprisingly though, he was not offered a fresh deal at the club, where he then moved to Northampton Town on a free.

Aiston would eventually see out his final days as a footballer playing for a host of clubs - turning out for Burton, Wrexham, Stafford Rangers, Hednesford and Gainsborough Trinity over three years before retiring after being offered a job as a primary school teacher.