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Top Ten: Games At The SOL - Part Two

Join us as Graham counts down from five to one in his top ten favourite ever games at the Stadium of Light - you can find part one here.

Michael Steele/Getty Images
5: 5th May 2015 - Sunderland 1-0 Newcastle – Barclays Premier League

The final entry for derby games at the Stadium of Light was number five in a series of six in a row.

It was an absolutely glorious day, where the sun shined beautifully from the minute it had risen. We had all gone and had a good swally before the game. The atmosphere jovial and electric.

Sunderland had lost the week before to West Ham in Dick Advocaat's first game as manager, and we all talked about the record of losing the away game before beating the Mags whenever we got a new manager in.

And that we did - we absolutely dominated them from start to finish. Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole won every loose ball as Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe looked to latch onto anything they could. As much as we dominated, we couldn't seem to put the ball away - step forward Jermain Defoe.

A long punt from big Costel was knocked down by Fletcher and as the ball beautifully dropped to JD, we all took a collective breath before I ended up about seven rows down on top of my season ticket neighbour Paul. The half time whistle blew; Jermain Defoe went down the tunnel in floods of tears - the atmosphere at half time is quite simply something you cannot bottle.

We continued to dominate in the second half, but couldn’t add a second. That said, when you look back it would of have been a shame to have scored another due to the quality of the finish from Defoe.

4: 27th April 2007 - Sunderland 3-2 Burnley – The Championship

Roy Keane had taken Sunderland to the summit of the Championship, all the way from the bottom of it in about six months. Led by David Connolly and Carlos Edwards, we had lost only one of our previous eighteen games - albeit it was the week previous, to Colchester.

A win over Burnley would almost certainly guarantee promotion and seal a memorable first campaign under the stewardship of Keano. It was a Friday night game, and we soon took the lead through Daryl Murphy, who had been quietly forging a great partnership with Connolly, and all seemed to be going to plan.

Within minutes, we had won a penalty and it looked like the evening would be as straight forward as you could imagine as we sailed to a routine victory and waited on the inevitable promotion party if Derby failed to win the next day.

Alas, it’s never that easy with us is it? Connolly missed and a mere moment later, Burnley had won their own and former Wearsider Andy Gray (cold shiver) stepped up to the plate and scored. Surely a minor setback? Well well well…step forward Wade Elliott who, early in the second half, thundered home a 35 yard shot straight past Darren Ward.

As the lads pushed forward, we managed to get another penalty as Brian Jensen took down Edwards as he was bursting into the box to round him. David Connolly picked the ball up without hesitation. Now, in hindsight, he’ll probably always be remembered at Sunderland for his bravery in taking it…but at the time I was bricking it and praying Leadbitter picked it up and just smashed the bugger down the middle.

Anyhow, he didn’t and Connolly did what he couldn’t do earlier and put away the penalty to level the score. As the fans sensed a winner was coming, the Lads drove forward in search of it. With ten minutes left, we managed to break up a Burnley attack on the edge of our box and work the ball out to the left, with Daryl Murphy feeding it to Carlos bursting down the right hand side, three onto five. He took one touch and absolutely leathered the ball into Jensen’s right hand top corner - it was quite simply perfect.

I leaped into my Dad’s arms as my younger brothers jumped up and down, wondering what they’d just seen. Of course, we hung on, got promoted and won the league, but this was the most memorable game of the season.

3: 7th May 2016 - Sunderland 3-2 Chelsea – Barclays Premier League

Going into this match Sunderland had became a difficult team to beat, coming off the back of a 94th minute penalty leveller at Stoke the week before. Sam Allardyce’s lads were roared onto the pitch, as if it were the Fulwell End Roker Roar in its heyday.

Typically, a lucky deflection fell to Diego Costa who had somehow managed to squeeze into the corner early on to put the jitters right up ourselves and the team.

We never relented, as we had half an eye on Newcastle’s result at Villa, and we knew we had to get back into it. As the Lads flung the ball into the box, a game of head tennis ensued before Whabi Khazri’s smashed a superb volley into the top corner of Thibaut Courtois' net - fans and players alike hugged in a moment of sheer relief.

Just as we had all calmed down, Lamine Kone and Younes Kaboul had an unusual brain fart and before you could say "bollocks", Nemanja Matic had put Chelsea back into the lead, in first half stoppage time. I sat in my seat desolate, wondering if this was our year to go. Thankfully, despite the nerves, we all blew in an unlikely equaliser as our cult hero Fabio Borini’s shot deflected past the Chelsea defence and somehow sneaked into the bottom corner.

With Newcastle struggling to score against Aston Villa, the Stadium was rocking.

"Just hang on to the point and go and win on Wednesday", I thought to myself - it was a good job the lads didn’t have the same idea.

As DeAndre Yedlin got the ball on the edge of the box, he was urged forward by the sheer noise of the fans, and his low cross somehow landed at the feet of the one man you want it to fall to, Jermain Defoe, who took one touch before burying the ball in the back of the Chelsea goal.

The Stadium went crackers, the team went crackers, and Sam Allardyce punched the air. We hung on with dogged determination and won. Newcastle drew. We were one win away from safety and sending our nearest rivals down.

What a night that became!

2: 13th May 1998 - Sunderland 2-0 Sheffield United – Nationwide Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg

Whether you were young or old when this game happened, most of us remember it like it was yesterday. It was quite simply one of the most memorable games of all time for Sunderland supporters.

We had amassed an unbelievable ninety points that season, yet somehow we just missed out on automatic promotion to Middlesbrough. Sheffield United had won 2-1 at Bramall Lane in the first leg, despite Kevin Ball putting us into an early lead, and the pressure was on Sunderland to achieve a huge result.

The way we had played that season though - I don’t think anyone had any doubts over us winning and getting through to Wembley. The Stadium of Light had simply become a fortress at this point.

The atmosphere in the play-off semi was matched only by the game against Manchester City in 1973 was what my Dad had told me, but this was not Roker - this was the Stadium of Light.

We dominated the opening twenty minutes. A cross from Allan Johnston was turned into the Sheffield United net by defender Nicky Marker, and Sunderland were ahead on away goals. As the crowd begged for more, in a season where we absolutely thumped teams regularly, that little man, the legend that became Kevin Phillips, smashed home his 34th goal of the season before half time. Sheffield United gave it a go into the second half but we never looked in any real danger, barring an outstanding late save from Lionel Perez to stop Dean Saunders forcing extra time - this was our night.

The celebrations went long into the night as we reached Wembley and were one step closer to promotion, with only Charlton and Clive Mendonca in the way.

1: Dec 4th 1999 - Sunderland 4-1 Chelsea – Barclays Premier League

What a team. What a game. What a performance.

I was thirteen years old at the time but sixteen years on it is still my favourite ever Sunderland match. We had been playing exceptionally well for quite some time, with Kevin Phillips taking to the Premiership like it was no big deal.

We literally carried on from our 105 point promotion season straight into the big league with exactly the same style, winning, dominating teams and with Quinn and Phillips scoring for fun.

Despite numerous great wins in that first five months of the season, this one topped the lot. Chelsea had pummeled us in the first game of the season at Stamford Bridge, and the media was full of how Sunderland were going to struggle following promotion - and, despite that blip, we rebounded tremendously.

Our enthusiasm for the big league back on that sunny day in August was admittedly dampened. We had reached forth in the league and were taking apart teams like Tottenham and Aston Villa with consummate ease, but we had numerous injuries and our squad was being stretched. Steve Bould and Paul Butler were both suspended, and the midfield was made up by free transfer signing Eric Roy and academy product Paul Thirlwell.

By the time Chelsea had come around, people had started to take notice of us, but some still thought we had just hit a purple patch. Within 42 seconds, we had flown into a lead as Frenchman Roy bundled into the area and squared the ball for Niall Quinn to tap in. From then onwards, we dominated.

In the 24th minute a ball landed on the half volley to Superkev about thirty yards out and he scored perhaps the best goal we have seen at the Stadium of Light - it swerved and went like a bullet straight past Ed De Goey.

We were elated, but most importantly proud. A goal line clearance stopped a third in the 35th minute, but only sixty seconds later, Kevin Phillips smashed in a rebound from a Niall Quinn save and we took a breath-taking 3-0 lead.

Soon after, Phillips was at it again as a header forced De Goey in a fingertip save only three minutes later. The resulting corner gave the Lads a forth though, as a headed clearance fell straight to Niall Quinn and he volleyed the ball past a mass of bodies into the bottom corner.

The second half was a non-starter - our work was done. We had smashed one of the world’s best teams and barely broke into a sweat. Gus Poyet pulled a goal back for Chelsea, and their fans sang "5-4 on aggregate". As I left the ground with my Dad, a Chelsea supporter came behind me and patted my shoulder. I remember every single word.

"Respect what team you have there kiddo, because it’s special. I’ve never seen Chelsea taken apart like they were there in my lifetime, ever. What a goal from Phillips. Your team, your stadium, your fans. Magnificent."

And he was right.