Mick Buxton (1993-94)
With the club in desperate trouble at the bottom of the second tier, the board looked within for a new manager in November 1993.
Mick Buxton was already on the coaching staff, brought in by some accounts by the board without consultation with the then manager Terry Butcher.
Buxton previously had long and largely successful spells as manager of Huddersfield and Scunthorpe and so with Butcher sacked, he was appointed manager at the end of November 1993 with the club in 20th place in the league.
Losing 3-2 at home in the first game against Nottingham Forest, there then followed a period of revival of the team's fortunes, based on tight defensive displays. After the chaotic organisation on the pitch of Terry Butcher, Sunderland conceded only 5 goals in the next 11 games. There was a run of 4 straight wins in March which pulled the team away from trouble and up to mid-table and where they stayed until the end of the season.
Players of the time when speaking to Roker Report podcasts tell of Buxton as a good organiser, drilling the side well and making the team difficult to beat. Testament of other players at the time is that they couldn’t take to him. Yet certainly, when a club has become sucked into a relegation battle, an organiser capable of getting the best from what he has at his disposal, is exactly what is needed and the change served Sunderland well to bring some order to the chaos.
It can also be said of Mick Buxton that it was he who first had the imagination to put Kevin Ball into Sunderland’s midfield, where he was to exceed and cement his club legendary status with his displays over the next few seasons.
In his next season, 94-95 the team got off to a fairly promising start. Unbeaten in the first eight games, they actually only won two of them. Draws and more importantly a lack of goals, were costing Sunderland dearly in a lack of creativity which started to drain confidence away from the team in a prequel to Phil Parkinson 26 years later.
Don Goodman - who for a few years had been Sunderland’s main goal threat and talisman - was struggling, dispirited and in November sold, along with somewhat surprisingly the long serving Gary Owers.
From being in 8th place in October, the club only headed in one direction from that point. The team were never really beaten heavily, but after a 2-0 win against Reading on 22 October, Sunderland only scored 21 goals in Buxton’s remaining 29 games as manager. Sound like a familiar story?
By the end of March, after four successive defeats Sunderland had dropped into 20th place, right where they were when Buxton took charge over a year before. Bob Murray said thank you very much and thought carefully about his next move, to prevent his legacy being that of the owner who had been in charge of a club twice relegated to the third tier.
When you think of Mick Buxton, it is difficult to think of outstanding memories - even bad ones- because the bad memories do not stand out, in the way that they would have other managers before him, like McMenemy, or for getting us to a cup final like Crosby, or Ashurst. He wasn't an inspiring character to the fans, more just functional and organised.
The football was bland and uninspiring and if his time in charge has faded into the past somewhat, then maybe in the years to come we will feel the same way about Phil Parkinson. The one outstanding contribution to the history of S.A.F.C. by Mick Buxton is that if it wasn’t for him, then the events that followed wouldn't have happened at all.
Peter Reid (1995-2002)
Sometimes pure chance generates good fortune.
No masterplan was in place when Peter Reid answered Bob Murray’s SOS in late March 1995. Sunderland were in deep trouble in 20th place in the second tier and staring straight down the barrel of the drop. Reid himself had been somewhat unfairly sacked as player-manager by Manchester City in late 1993, which he followed by short playing spells at a few clubs before coming to the still present Roker Park.
His only brief at that point was to keep Sunderland up, which he immediately set about with only one defeat in the last seven games of the campaign, to leave the club safe six points clear of the drop.
For the following season, he has since admitted that his ambition was to no more than finish in mid-table, and to achieve it he had confronted the board in the summer to fund some strengthening of the first team squad.
However, as the campaign unravelled, Sunderland put together a long run of results which set them clear at the top of the table. This was pretty much the same team he had inherited, bar Paul Bracewell who had been brought in as player-coach and importantly Shay Given for a loan spell between the sticks. The Sunderland side that turned out for the last game of the 95-96 season at Tranmere as champions, contained ten players that Reid had inherited over a year before when the club was in 20th place in the league.
Peter Reid was a larger than life character, sharp witted and someone who loved a dressing room full of noisy players, unafraid to speak up and say their piece when things were not going right.
He believed strongly in team bonding, with everyone looking out for one another on the pitch and to help achieve this, one of the most important signings he made was in that first summer. But not in the form of a player. Just about every Sunderland player from the Peter Reid era, tells of the importance played by first team coach Bobby Saxton, another huge character with an infectious personality that the players took to, and along with Reid, the two of them would have the side completely fired up and fully committed for games.
Sunderland fought hard in their first season in the Premier League in 1996-97 and attained the 40 point mark which in most seasons would be enough to keep them up. Unfortunately on this occasion it wasn't. Reid was not helped by injuries to two of his summer signings, Niall Quinn and Tony Coton and the club once again was back in the second tier as they moved to the Stadium of Light.
With some funds to strengthen the first team - although not a kings ransom - Reid made one of the best recruitment drives of any Sunderland manager. To go alongside Alan Johnston who joined in the closing weeks of the relegation campaign, he brought in Lee Clark, Nicky Summerbee, Jody Craddock and for an initial £300,000, a failed fullback turned striker from Watford that nobody had heard of.
After an initial indifferent start, and with the now fit again Niall Quinn everything started to come together on the pitch. Just failing to attain promotion by the last kick of the season in a play off defeat, the side ran away with the Championship the following year.
Back in the Premier League Sunderland didn't let up, going toe to toe with the biggest and best teams in the country, over each of the next two seasons looking like certainties for European qualification, only to just miss out each time as results tailed off in the second half of the season. All Sunderland fans of a four-year period starting in 1997-98 recall great, great times with a fully committed team playing sweeping attacking football.
Finally Sunderland, one of the long sleeping giants of the game, had woken up and began to live up to their potential.
Alas, as spectacularly as it had all come together, it equally as spectacularly fell apart.
Key players either left, seemingly because of a fall out, got injured or retired. Their replacements just never lived up to the standards on the pitch that had been set. After performances and results fell away badly in 2001-02, Peter Reid was sacked after a bad start in the 02-03 season and from that point on, Sunderland hit the self-destruct as they crashed out of the Premier League.
What went wrong? Long since debated by fans over a breweries yearly output, if 10,000 words could be written about Peter Reid, then half of them could theorise why it all fell apart.
Niall Quinn got old, he had no plan B, the recruitment went wayward, the players started to argue, Reid’s own man-management skills have to be questioned, he didn't get the money he wanted to spend, too many good players left way too early, he was sacked too soon. Maybe it was a bit of all of them.
Writing in his own book, Reid said that he loved his time in charge. He acknowledged that the wheels shouldn’t have come off his Sunderland juggernaut so soon and took full responsibility for it. But then he was always the big enough man to do that.
With Peter Reid the good times far outweighed the bad and at his height, showed what the club can truly achieve. He is rightly regarded as one of the great Sunderland managers.