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‘Super’ Kevin Phillips & ‘Sir’ Niall Quinn chat about their famous partnership at Sunderland!

Legendary Sunderland strike partnership Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips had a reunion on the Off The Ball podcast this week, as the pair got together to discuss their time at the club.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Sunderland Training Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Discussing Phillips initially arriving at the club, Quinn discussed how the team had initially heard that Watford striker David Connolly was set to arrive (a player who would eventually sign in 2006), only for Phillips to turn up instead.

But once the striker had his first training session, the players were in no doubt that Peter Reid has secured the club a bargain:

We heard rumours that David Connolly, who was at Watford at the same time, was coming up and the local press were saying the same thing.

So we were waiting for David Connolly to come through the gate and Kevin Phillips came through, we didn’t know a lot about him.

We saw his record, he’d scored a few goals but straight away, the first training session you could see the intent was there, not just to be part of the group and just make up the numbers, he was really hot to trot.

Everyone went ‘hey, this guy looks decent’.

It wasn’t long then before we played Man City at his first game at the Stadium of Light and he had a fantastic opening game for Sunderland, he caught everybody’s imagination and literally hit the ground running.

So we knew, probably very quickly, that Peter Reid had stolen one from Watford.

At the same time Phillips signed, Quinn himself believed himself to be at the end of his career. With the Irish striker revealing that he had papers delivered by PFA chief Gordon Taylor as he started the process of retiring.

Instead, the duo hit it off and gave Quinn the best five years of his playing career:

Yeah, very close, I even had the papers delivered to me by Gordon Taylor at the PFA about how I would quit and maximise my pension and all of that kind of talk because I was really struggling with a knee injury.

I’d had my second cruciate, I’d done my first cruciate ahead of the World Cup in 1994 in my left leg and I done my right leg five games into my Sunderland career.

So finding the path back was hard, I wasn’t playing as good as I could, the injury was troubling me and at that particular time I was almost washed up and Kev Phillips came in the gates at the Charlie Hurley Training Centre, and I’m not just saying this here on the radio but I say this to everybody, I had the best five years of my career thereafter.

It was a combination of surgeon named Mr [Steve] Bollen, who had a procedure that corrected my knee a few weeks after Kev arrived, and when I got back the two of us hit it off.

Quinn was then asked why they hit it off to such a degree and he revealed that he did not like being on the same team as Phillips during training, as he was too greedy and would not pass, but that he did tell him which way he would direct his headers for Phillips to latch onto:

Look, we’ll both say that without the likes of Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston, who were putting all the ammunition up towards us that we wouldn’t have got anywhere near where we did but, at the same time, I’ll always be grateful that Kevin Phillips gave me the most enjoyable five years of my career.

Because we didn’t practise with each other, it was all off the cuff and just got to know what the other player wanted to do.

Kev will laugh at this now but the last thing you want to do in training is to be picked on the same team as him as he wouldn’t pass the ball, he kept trying to score goals! So I made a point of not working it out.

We did a little bit, I don’t know if you remember it Kev, but I said if I am going up for a header that I’ll always head it inside and Kev was very quick to pretend he was going another way at that point and then cutting inside and it looked as if it was all practised and rehearsed but we just read each other really well.

I knew any time a ball came across, if I couldn’t score, there was always going to be an area where I knew he would get to, he would never be there too early, he’d never be there too late and his timing was immaculate.

I have no qualms in saying it, he made me look far better than I was because I would have played with players beforehand where I’d try and do the same thing and you just don’t read each other or whatever but Kev was brilliant, he mopped up things and, as I said, made me look half decent.

Hearing Quinn say about himself was a point of pride to Phillips but he did mention that another bit of advice the Irish striker gave him was to stick within 15-yards of him:

I take a lot of pride in hearing Niall say that.

When we speak to people now, they just can’t believe we didn’t work on it on the training ground.

The biggest bit of advice that Niall gave me and only ever said to me and Peter Reid, was try not to be more than 10-15 yards away from me.

Whether that was going in behind, coming inside or dropping in front for a chest down and then we’re either laying Nicky Summerbee, Allan Johnston or a third man, a midfield player running.

That stuck with me the whole time I played with Niall.

Phillips went on to say that he never expected his career to take the direction it did when he joined Sunderland and found it hard to believe that he was playing with a player he watched growing up as an Arsenal fan:

When I moved to Sunderland, I never expected the path it was going to take, I never expected the goals I was going to score and I never expected to play alongside someone the calibre of Niall Quinn.

I was a young Arsenal fan, I do remember Niall at Arsenal and all of a sudden now, we’re breaking records in the Premier League and it was just a dream come true for me.

But he’s right in what he says, we can’t take all the credit, we played with some really good players.

Our two fullbacks, Chris Makin and Micky Gray, overlapping, crossing and it was just one of those partnerships that just seemed to gel.

We’re seeing it in the Premier League over the years, with the SAS (Shearer and Sutton), Andy Cole/Dwight Yorke, it was just one of those that happened and I’ll be forever grateful for it.

You can listen to the full podcast with Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips by clicking HERE or alternatively you can press play on the YouTube video below.

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