Mick McCarthy had worked absolute wonders on a shoe-string budget during the 2004-05 campaign to guide Sunderland to a Championship title - and by quite a comfortable margin. The 2005-06 campaign brought an expected relegation battle, with most fans accepting that survival would be a magnificent achievement.
The fixture list drew us with a good indicator of how our season could go - Charlton at home. Charlton were an established lower mid-table side in the Premier League and Alan Curbishley had built a very tidy team led by players like Danny Murphy, Darren Bent and Matt Holland - just to name a few.
A victory against Charlton really would have given us a real boost at the start of the season, but a harsh defeat would give us at least some indication of what we could expect throughout the rest of the year.
The New Boys
By the time the Charlton game came around, the club had made 8 signings in preparation for the new season. It is quite clear from looking at the transfers and fees that the club was working on probably the smallest budget in the league.
We bought Jon Stead for £1.8 million, Kelvin Davis for £1.25 million and Daryl Murphy for £100k. Those were the only fees paid out up to this point. We also loaned Anthony Le Tallec from Liverpool while adding Tommy Miller, Joe Murphy, Nyron Nosworthy, Alan Stubbs and Martin Woods on free transfers.
We also allowed 8 players to leave the club: Marcus Stewart left for Bristol City with Michael Bridges, Brian Deane moved to Australia, Sean Thornton moved to Doncaster Rovers, Jeff Whitley to Cardiff, Mark Lynch to Hull, Michael Ingham to Wrexham and Thomas Myhre to Charlton.
Just over four months ago we sealed promotion with a terrific win over Leicester City. Since then this is the day we’ve all been waiting for and we’re all really looking forward to it.
Our gaffer was leading with some strong optimism going into the season, telling fans what the plan will be to get points. He had taken the side across the pond to the United States and Canada for a successful pre-season tour where we faced Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and BC All Stars.
Our new hitman Jon Stead was our main hope for goals going into the 2005-06 season. The young striker had a mixed spell at Blackburn prior to Sunderland shelling out £1.8 million for his services. Stead was hoping that Sunderland would get his career back on track and we all hoped his hunger would get us some goals.
I should have scored more goals than I did last season, and although there were various reasons for that I am not making excuses but am looking forward to doing well for Sunderland.
The Captain speaks
Gary Breen was a shrewd signing by Mick McCarthy in the summer of 2003, and was a consistent performer during the following two campaigns. Breen had Premier League experience and even boasted 63 Ireland caps by the time he had retired.
The captain seemed pretty confident that we could achieve survival, even mentioning how he was looking forward to playing at Highbury and at Arsenals new stadium - the Emirates - the following season.
We know we are taking a massive step up in entering the Premier League. We need players to step up to the plate and not be overawed.
The game itself was a really wet blanket. Charlton took an early lead with Darren Bent scoring the goal. Sunderland managed an equaliser with Andy Gray netting from a Dean Whitehead rebound.
Charlton went down to 10 men early in the second half as Darren Ambrose was sent off for a vicious lunge tackle, but the away side took the advantage just 9 minutes later with a Danny Murphy free kick. Sunderland pushed for an equaliser but were hit with a last minute Darren Bent goal that sealed Charlton’s 3-1 win.
It wouldn't be normal if we didn't lose our first game of the season. Losing 3-1 looks awful, and I suppose it is, but at 2-1 it was all or bust and we could have nicked an equaliser.
We changed the shape of our team and got back in the game - and deservedly so. It settled down and I was happy enough at half-time.
Danny Murphy's finish was fabulous for their second goal but we were at fault in the build-up and we have to stop that kind of thing.
We came into today's game and knew it would be tricky. We came in at half-time thinking we should have had the game wrapped up.
We were disappointed to come in at 1-1 at the break and then after the sending off you think it's not going to be your day.
But we stuck to it and played ever so well - albeit with 10 men - and we thoroughly deserved the result.