Today Sunderland make the one hundred and fifteen mile trip down the A19 to face Barnsley at Oakwell for the first time in ten years.
Historically we've faired well against Barnsley: since the two clubs first met at Roker Park in 1958, Sunderland have played Barnsley twenty five times in competitive fixtures, winning fifteen, drawing two and losing eight. Sunderland have triumphed over Barnsley five times out of the previous six meetings.
The two met in a mammoth encounter in the first round of the 1986–87 Full Members' Cup - a tournament created to compensate for the ban on English clubs from European football following the Heysel Stadium disaster.
The game at Roker Park ended 1-1 after ninety minutes and with neither team able to score again in extra time the game went to a penalty shoot out; Sunderland scrapping it 8-7. However, the lads crashed out in the second round to Bradford City and were eventually relegated to the old third division for the first - and so far - only time in the clubs history.
Former Sunderland player and Middlesborough caretaker manager Steve Agnew began his career at Barnsley, amassing one hundred and ninety-four league appearances for the Tykes before appearing sixty three times for the Black Cats. Former Goalkeeper David Preece also has experience of both clubs, having started his career on Wearside. The 6 foot 2 inch 'keeper failed to make a senior appearance for his hometown club but went on to appear seven times for Barnsley.
With Sunderland and Barnsley back in the same division for the first time in a decade, let's take a look at the last encounter between the two Northern teams.
March 10th 2007 - Barnsley 0-2 Sunderland
Controversy struck in the build up to Sunderland’s last meeting with Barnsley. The disciplinarian Roy Keane instructed the team bus to leave without Anthony Stokes, Tobias Hysen and Marton Fulop, owing to the trio's lateness.
Keane later explained that he had taken exception to the tardiness of the famed 'Barnsley Three':
Could not make it for the 4.15pm coach yesterday afternoon, although we'd finished training just past noon. That's not good enough. In the past I have the feeling that players at the club have thought Sunderland is a soft touch. No more. If you work in a normal job in a factory you punch in. That's what I used to do years ago. So I left them behind.
Due to Sunderland's resurgence and brilliant form, the gaffer enjoyed a hero's welcome from the away end, with The Guardian commenting that the Irishman received 'messianic adulation that only a pope, banana-republic dictators and football folk heroes can command.' High praise indeed.
Those 8,000 travelling fans in a packed away cheered Keane's men on to a 0-2 victory in the Yorkshire sunshine, with goals from David Connolly and Grant Leadbitter causing limbs to fly. A ninth win in eleven Championship games for a hard-working Sunderland team.
There was never a dull moment during the former Manchester United captain's tenure on Wearside and the manager's post-match comments didn't disappoint:
It was a carnival atmosphere but we had to fight not get sucked into that. We had to remind the players at half time that there was a job to be done and that they could enjoy the fans afterwards.
Hopefully this weekend’s trip to Yorkshire brings a repeat of the joyous scenes amongst Mackems in 2007. If you’re travelling down to Oakwell on Saturday then give our definitive away day guide a read. Oakwell is, after all, amongst the 'crème de la crème of Championship trips'.