On this day in 2003, Sunderland headed to Gillingham to face Andy Hessenthaler’s Gillingham, hoping to turn around a run which had seen the team win only one game in five.
Of perhaps more concern was the lack of goals. Marcus Stewart’s winner at home to Rotherham – in a game in which future Roy Keane target Chris Baird (who preferred the shopping in London) was sent off on the stroke of half time – was the only time the lads had troubled the scoreboard on those five games.
On the positive side, our defence had barely been breached; Damien Francis’s goal for Norwich in a 1-0 home win for The Canaries – who’d go on to win the title – being the only time Estonian custodian Mart Poom had had to pick the ball out of his net.
On-loan signing Stewart Downing had made his debut at West Brom the week before, and kept his place in the side at the Priestfield Stadium.
On this Tuesday evening fixture, McCarthy named the following team:
Poom, Williams, Breen, McCartney, Arca; Oster, Healy, Whitley, Downing; Kyle, Stewart
Subs: Ingham, Wright, Bjorklund, Thirlwell, Smith
In the Gills’ line up - which featured manager Hessenthaler – was someone who’d go on to be signed by Mick McCarthy a 18 months later: the one and only Nyron Nosworthy.
Sunderland had the best of the early exchanges; Oster’s cross was scrambled behind by Nosworthy, before the ex-Everton winger’s shot was blocked by the keeper.
Kyle smashed a volley against Nyron’s legs, before Downing’s free kick hit the wall that the home team had assembled.
After a great deal of Sunderland pressure, the predictable happened – Shaw nodding past Poom with fewer than ten minutes of the first half to play.
Sunderland equalised on the stroke of half time, and it was new boy Downing who netted – driving home from an Oster cross.
In the second half, Downing repaid the favour, Oster finishing neatly from a left wing cross. It was Oster again who was instrumental in the third and final goal for Sunderland, which sealed a 3-1 win, dribbling into the box to tee up a tap in for Marcus Stewart.
This was the only victory in 10 games, with Sunderland going on to draw four and lose two – which saw the team drop to 10th place in the table, before mounting a strong run in the final third of the season – perhaps boosted by the FA Cup run.
As for Nyron, this was one of 174 league games for Gillingham, and he evidently made an impression on McCarthy who signed him on the eve of our Premier League campaign a year and a half later.
Thrust into Premier League action much earlier than expected thanks to an opening day injury to Stephen Wright, the right back’s debut was memorable for the wrong reason – his first ‘touch’ seeing the ball roll under his foot for a throw in.
He went on to produce other classics – such as the back pass from the half way line against Middlesbrough – and in all truth struggled, as did the rest of the team – in the Premier League.
It was really when Roy Keane took charge, and paired Nyron with Jonny Evans in the centre of defence, that Nosworthy really came into his own, and formed a key part of the Championship winning team.
They tried to take the ball off Nyron, he said no, no, no!