Tonight we face what could be one of the toughest games of the season against promotion candidates Sheffield Wednesday, in an attempt to continue what has been a very promising start to life in the Championship.
The last time this fixture took place was way back on the 20th of January, 2007 and since then so much has happened to both clubs.
The man in charge of Sunderland on that day 10 years ago was none other than Roy Keane. Up until that fixture, Keano had been leading the lads’ charge up the table after an awful start to the 2006/07 season in which we lost our first four games and were bottom by the time Roy took over.
Since that season Sunderland have enjoyed/endured a decade of Premier League football but Sheffield Wednesday have had rather contrasting fortunes.
In 2010 the Owls were relegated to League One thanks in no small part to what was an incredibly insecure financial situation. At one point the club’s troubles were so bad that a number of winding up orders actually threatened the very existence of one of football’s oldest clubs. It was only after the intervention of Milan Mandaric (the former chairman of Portsmouth and Leicester City) that the club was finally saved from its debts, as the businessman purchased Wednesday for the grand total of £1.
Since then The Owls have earned promotion to the Championship once again in 2012 and, after another change in ownership, the Yorkshire side are considered one of the strongest in the division. Just in time then for us to head back down and have another go at them, a whole 10 years since our last meeting at Hillsborough.
January 20th 2007, Sheffield Wednesday 2-4 Sunderland
Sunderland traveled to Yorkshire sitting 9th place in the Championship, looking to put ourselves withing striking distance of the play-offs after a mixed start to the season. The lads were sure to be high on confidence after a winning start to the new year, beating Leicester away and Ipswich at home without even conceding a goal. January signings Jonny Evans and Carlos Edwards appeared to have immediately improved the side and our opponents were missing a couple of key players with injury.
Nailed on to be a comfortable win then - but this is Sunderland.
After an hour had been played it does look like the lads had made light work of their opponents. 3-0 ahead with only 30 minutes remaining certainly appears to be a strong showing. However, in typical Sunderland fashion the last few minutes made for particularly uncomfortable viewing for the fans as Wednesday hit back with a 5 minute double salvo from Chris Brunt and Wade Small. There were now 3 minutes left but only one goal between the sides. In the last minute of regular time Carlos Edwards struck Sunderland’s fourth to kill the game off, however it wasn’t enough to gloss over what was a poor performance and certainly wasn’t enough to please Roy Keane:
I was disappointed generally. We're doing okay. We're taking baby steps. We got away with it.
It was a good result but the performance was disappointing.
We kept giving the ball away and players were doing the wrong things, taking too many touches. The players are capable of doing better than that.
This public criticism of the players was a first for Keane who normally remained positive about his side as he tried to restore some of the confidence in a club that had just been relegated with a record-low points total (sorry for reminding you).
You can draw a number of positives between Roy Keane and our current manager, Simon Grayson. The main one being that both men have come into the club with a clear understanding of what it’s all about to play for Sunderland. Just like Keane was, Grayson has been positive, professional and so far successful.
Its similarities like that one that make me feel confident of making it back to back wins against Sheffield Wednesday (albeit 10 years apart, with entirely different teams).