After the magic carpet ride that was the 2006-07 title-winning season, Roy Keane knew that further significant investment was required to tackle the challenge of the Premier League.
Almost £10 million had been invested in the playing staff in order to gain promotion but, in order to ensure survival, the ex-Manchester United legend would need to convince Chairman Niall Quinn and the Drumaville group who owned the club, to part with investment on a different level.
Players such as Craig Gordon, Kieran Richardson, Michael Chopra, Kenwyne Jones, Paul McShane, Dickson Etuhu and Greg Halford were added to the squad, and on the opening day of the season things appeared promising.
Sunderland started off their Premier League adventure under Keane by picking up three points at the Stadium of Light, thanks to a last-minute goal by Michael Chopra against Martin Jol’s Tottenham Hotspur.
This early optimism didn’t last, however, when halfway through the season Sunderland had chalked up only three victories – and found themselves sitting 19th in the Premier League on Boxing Day.
Jonny Evans, Phil Bardsley and Andy Reid bolstered the ranks in January, and their presence helped boost the team’s form – finishing the 2007-08 season in 15th place.
Roy Keane was desperate for Sunderland to avoid another season thinking about survival and this resulted in another request to the board for funds – even if though the club were in the midst of a takeover.
Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque, El Hadji Diouf, Djibril Cisse and Anton Ferdinand were all recruited for Keane’s second Premier League term.
As Ellis Short took over ownership of the club in September 2008, things were looking good as Sunderland sat 6th after a 2-0 home win over Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough side at the Stadium of Light.
A month later, Sunderland defeated Newcastle United at home for the first time since 1980, when goals from Djibril Cisse and an unforgettable free-kick from Kieran Richardson gave us a 2-1 victory in front of 47,936.
Despite sitting in the comfort of mid-table after winning the derby, rumours circulated that all wasn’t well in terms of the relationship between the new owner and manager. Short apparently had concerns about the manager not living in the area, and not being present at the training ground.
Sunderland would go on to lose their next three Premier League games, including a 5-0 away defeat at Stamford Bridge to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea, and went into the fixture at Ewood Park on this day twelve years ago occupying a position in the 19th position. Opponents Blackburn Rovers, managed by Keane’s former Manchester United teammate Paul Ince, sat four places – and only one point – above.
The game, however, didn’t start well for Sunderland and Roy Keane when a goal from Christopher Samba on the stroke of half-time gave Rovers the lead.
The next day, at Blackburn, we were 1-0 down. Our two strikers, Cisse and Kenwyne Jones, are giving us nothing. It was like we had nine men. I ripped into them at half-time. I probably went overboard; it was a gamble. I thought they’d either respond to it - ‘We’ll show you’ - or they’d sulk.
His half-time discussion seemed to have worked as Sunderland, and the strikers, improved in the second half.
We went out in the second half and Kenwyne scored inside a minute. Then Cisse scored. He ran over to the dugout and shook my hand. It was nice; I enjoyed it. I thought, ’Fair play to yeh’. What I liked about Cisse, he took his bollocking. He didn’t sulk. He just went and scored the winning goal. Things were rosy in the garden again.
Two successive defeats followed at the Stadium of Light – first to West Ham United, and more decisively a 4-1 home defeat to Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers, a result which left Sunderland 18th in the Premier League. A subsequent argument between Ellis Short and Roy Keane set the wheels in motion for the manager to leave ahead of the next fixture at Old Trafford.
But it was over. It still saddens me. I still think I should be the manager of Sunderland. I really like the club, and I like the people.
The fanbase was split as to whether Keane had more to offer or had took the club as far as he could, but one thing was for sure – it was fun while it lasted.
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Ooijer, Warnock, Mokoena, Samba, Khizanishvili, Simpson, Andrews (Villanueva), Roberts (Derbyshire), Santa Cruz, Gamst Pedersen (Kerimoglu) Substitutes Not used: Brown, Treacy, Judge, Fowler
Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins, Malbranque (Leadbitter), Whitehead, Tainio (Reid), Richardson, Jones, Cisse (Yorke) Substitutes Not used: Colgan, Henderson, Diouf, Murphy