It was only the second game after we’d beaten Newcastle 2-1 at the Stadium of Light thanks to that Kieran Richardson free kick, but as it turned out we were already in the burning embers of Roy Keane’s spell in charge. In hindsight the signs were there, however – Keano hadn’t reached for the Gillette for over a week and a half. And if there was ever a telltale sign about Keane’s mood, it was the length of his facial hair.
Clean shaven Roy? Happy and positive. Bearded Roy? Storm clouds are brewing.
The Newcastle game – the first home win over our neighbours with the highly inflated sense of self importance since 1980 – was closely followed by a midweek 1-0 reverse to Stoke (it turned out Cisse and Diouf couldn’t do it on a wet, windy night in the Potteries) and we headed to Stamford Bridge to take on Phil Scolari’s Chelsea.
After the midweek disappointment, Keane made 5 changes to his starting XI. Out went Bardsley, Yorke, Collins, Cisse and Diouf, replaced by Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Tainio, Jones and Waghorn. An 18 year old Jordan Henderson, whose only experience of first team football so far was an appearance off the bench in the preseason friendly versus Ajax, was named on the bench as Sunderland lined up like this:
4-5-1: Fulop, Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, McCartney; Malbranque, Whitehead, Tainio, Richardson, Waghorn; Jones.
Subs: Colgan, Bardsley, Reid, Henderson, Meyler, Diouf, Cisse.
The game didn’t go according to any sort of plan that Keane might have had, and we went in 3-0 down at half time, and all three goals would certainly have had VAR taking a long, hard look. Alex’s opener looked offside; Anelka’s second was offside, and the Frenchman’s second of the game came as a result of a pretty clear foul in the build up play.
It was enough to tip Keano over the edge. His half time ‘chat’ with Martin Atkinson resulted in him watching the second half from the stands.
When asked about his conversation with the Leeds official, Keane said:
You would have to ask the referee.
We certainly thought their third goal was unfair because of a foul on Chimbonda.
Before disappearing upstairs, Keane made a double sub. Diouf came on for Waghorn, who’d been asked to play wide left in a five man midfield, and Malbranque, who’d lined up on the right of the five, was replaced by youngster Henderson.
The game finished 5-0, Lampard and Anelka scoring two early in the second half, and Sunderland spending the vast majority of the second half battling valiantly to keep the score down.
After the game Keane said:
We were outclassed by a top, top team. When you’re losing 5-0 and Didier Drogba comes on, you know you’re in trouble. You want that clock to go forward. I was in my bedroom last night thinking of tactics and tactic boards, but nothing would have worked today – I’m not too despondent.
Henderson was an unused sub the following week in a home defeat to Portsmouth, but was given his first start in a midweek league cup game at home to Blackburn; Sunderland exiting the cup thanks to a 2-1 defeat.
Henderson was back on the bench again the following week in a 2-1 win at Blackburn (Cisse famously running over to Keane on the touchline to celebrate), and again in the 1-0 home defeat to West Ham.
Come the day of what turned out to be Keane’s final game as manager, the 4-1 defeat to Bolton, Henderson had dropped off the bench – Keane going for experience as the dark clouds grew darker still.
As Keane departed the club to be replaced by Ricky Sbragia, Henderson also left Sunderland – temporarily at least – for a loan stint at Coventry, where he impressed and, despite picking up an injury which curtailed his season, returned to the club ready to challenge for a first team spot – and quickly established himself in the team under new manager Steve Bruce, and we all know the rest of the story.
Looking back on his debut at Chelsea years later, Henderson said:
Roy Keane was the manager and at half-time at Chelsea he told me to go out and warm-up. He told me I was coming on and while it wasn’t great because we lost 5-0, just to get flung in at the deep end was a great experience.
To get a feel for playing in the Premier League and to see the level I needed to get to was great. It was an experience that I definitely wouldn’t change and one that I think helped me in the long run.
To be able to play for the first-team at the Stadium of Light was incredible, I had always dreamt of it, so to be able to do that was massive and then to do it with England was just as big.
Henderson’s continued achievements are a great source of pride for everyone connected with SAFC – his work ethic and attitude particularly are a glowing testament to the work of Kevin Ball and Ged McNamee in the academy.
However, 12 years ago, you’d have got long odds on the skinny lad coming on at half time going on to be a League winning club captain and skipper of the national side...