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Top Five: Sunderland's greatest second-tier matches of the last twenty years; there's been a few

Although the goal is to get out of the Championship next season, the second tier of English football has perhaps provided Sunderland fans with more great memories than the Premier League. Take a walk down memory lane as we count down the top five games in the old Second Division of the last twenty years.

Peter Reid...
Let’s hope that whoever walks into that hotseat can do what a certain Mr Reid did - twice.

With Blind Date back on the telly last night, take a nostalgic trip down the Old Second Division with 'our Graham' for a quick reminder of the five best games outside the top-flight of the last twenty years.

The second tier is a notoriously hard league to get out of, yet Sunderland have managed it more than most, despite dropping into the division under a range of different circumstances.

With that has come many memorable victories. To narrow them down to the top five in my lifetime became a lot more difficult than I first imagined! However, I am suddenly looking forward to August. Bring on the Championship!

5) Sunderland 7-0 Oxford United - 19/9/98

Thomas Sorensen
Thomas Sorensen enjoyed a day off.

To say we dominated the league back in 1998-99 would be an understatement, and our dominance over that division was never more evident than in a seven-goal thrashing of Oxford United.

Even with Super Kev and Niall Quinn injured, we were 3-0 up by half time, before further goals from Danny Dichio, Alex Rae (2) and Michael Bridges in the second half gave us our biggest victory ever recorded at the SoL. It’s not often we get days like this, so it has to be included in the top five.

4) Southampton 1-2 Sunderland - 9/4/07

Southampton v Sunderland
Grant Leadbitter celebrates putting his boyhood club top of the league.
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

With the feel-good factor well and truly back on Wearside, Roy Keane’s men travelled to St. Mary’s on Easter Monday knowing a win would put them top of the pile.

Marek Saganowski’s goal in the 67th minute attempted to spoil the celebrations, but as we all know, Sunderland were unstoppable at this point and came back with two glorious goals.

Man of the hour Carlos Edwards equalised with a sublime long-ranger before - in true fairy tale fashion - local lad Grant Leadbitter smashed in his ninth goal of the season. That 89th minute strike won us the game and cemented the Lads as the Championship’s league leaders for the first time that season.

3) Bury 2-5 Sunderland - 13/4/99

Kevin Phillips
Super Kev curls in number five.

Some nights are etched in your memory forever and that one at Gigg Lane to seal promotion feels like it was only yesterday. Although only 12-years-old at that time, I was a season ticket holder for my third year by then and the pain we all felt in losing the play-off final less than a year before was still fresh in my boyhood memory.

As such, there were to be tears this year too, but good ones! A five-star performance from Peter Reid’s men - Kevin Phillips in particular - gave us the return to the promised land of the Premier League that we had craved. Four goals from the striking legend were added to with a first half Niall Quinn strike, and although better was still to come in the seasons ahead, that night was a glorious time to be a Wearsider.

2) Sunderland 3-2 Burnley - 28/4/07

Sunderland v Burnley
One of the great Sunderland moments of recent years, if not all time.
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Simon Crabtree’s commentary, Carlos Edwards’ screamer, David Connolly’s bravery, Andy Gray scoring against his former club and ultimately Roy Keane’s Sunderland promotion - this game had it all.

You’d be hard pushed to find a fixture as joyous, fun and important as this one.

Taking an early lead through Daryl Murphy meant it looked like this would be a routine win and a night for calm and celebration. But a missed penalty from David Connolly meant Andy Gray and his Burnley counterparts had other ideas as Burnley went into an early second half lead - leaving the crowd nervous, but unrelenting in their support to push us over the line.

Truth be told, nothing was going to stop us winning that night and when a second penalty was won and bravely converted by top scorer David Connolly, there was only going to be one victor.

I needn’t tell you about Carlos Edwards’ winner because it’ll be forever remembered on Wearside as one of the greatest moments in our recent history. Glorious.

1) Sunderland 2-0 Sheffield United - 16/5/98

Allan Johnston of Sunderland and Paul Devlin of Sheffield United
Magic Johnston’s deflected cross set the Lads on their way to Wembley on a white hot night at the SoL.

Picking the best second tier game in my lifetime was harder than I had originally anticipated, but the memory of that atmosphere during the play-off semi final against Sheffield United still sends a shiver down my spine.

The roar that greeted both goals was akin to a plane taking off. The sound must have travelled for miles.

Trailing 2-1 from the first leg at Bramall Lane, we were still solid favourites to get to Wembley. Tallying 90 points over the entire season meant we had racked up more points than most teams needed for automatic promotion, but in typical Sunderland fashion, we had to do things the hard way.

Super Kev was again on target on a night where he reached 34 goals in his debut season, whereas a Nicky Marker own goal set us on the way to Wembley before a ludicriously good save from French goalkeeper Lionel Perez kept us on track to complete the win in 90 mins, without the worry of extra time.

The atmosphere remained white hot until the final whistle, with chants of ‘Wembley’ reverberating around our new stadium. For once on Wearside, things felt just right.

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