On this day in 2006, Niall Quinn’s Sunderland took on Plymouth Argyle at the Stadium of Light, hoping to get the first points of the season on the board, after starting the season with defeats to Peter Reid’s Coventry City and Steve Bruce’s Birmingham side featuring Seb Larsson and Nicklas Bendtner.
All looked rosy after a minute, with Daryl Murphy putting Sunderland ahead, before Norris and Hayles give Argyle a 2-1 half time lead. An equaliser from Elliott gave us that familiar feeling of home, before it was cruelly, and typically, snatched away from us by a late Nick Chadwick winner.
While, of course, the 2006-07 season will be remembered extremely fondly for anyone who watched the lads that season, it can safely be divided up in two distinct periods: BR and AR.
Before Roy and After Roy.
The club had been in a state of limbo during the summer, with first the Drumaville takeover and then the search for a manager disrupting plans to build a team capable of bouncing back to the top flight at the first attempt.
Quinn, assuming the managerial reins after rejections from Big Sam and Keano, brought in Kenny Cunningham and Clive Clarke as major reinforcements – Arnau, the Barcelona B captain, watched the Plymouth encounter from the stands.
Of the 16 players involved in the Plymouth encounter, only seven – Grant Leadbitter, Danny Collins, Dean Whitehead, Daryl Murphy, Stephen Elliott and Darren Ward survived any length of time under Keane.
Ward was sub keeper that August afternoon, having arrived on a free after a two-year spell on the Norwich City bench.
Taking the number one jersey was Ben Alnwick; Quinn, never short of exaggeration, comparing him in pre-season to Jimmy Montgomery.
It’s easy to forget the high hopes that surrounded Alnwick at the time, however.
Parachuted in towards the end of the Mick Mac championship winning season, after a couple of hapless displays by Michael Ingham (standing in for the injured Thomas Myhre) Alnwick’s first two games were a promotion winning victory at home to Leicester City, and an away win at Upton Park to seal the deal. Now that was a Friday night not to forget.
After Myhre’s departure (still a ridiculous decision) and McCarthy’s signing of Kelvin Davis (another ridiculous decision) Alnwick was consigned to the reserves, with new signing Joe Murphy backing Davis up.
Come November, though, after Matt Taylor had managed to chip Kelvin Davis from Southwick, Alnwick was given an opportunity in the Premier League. He played five games – five defeats; the last of which was at White Hart Lane against Martin Jol’s Spurs, where he put in a commendable display, which included a penalty save from perennial target Robbie Keane.
Alnwick, quite justifiably, was given the number one jersey to start Quinn’s new era, and actually played the first 11 games of the league season before losing his place to Ward after a poor run of form and a particularly ugly 4-1 away defeat to Preston.
Keane, not convinced by Alnwick on the field, was even less convinced of him off it. A ‘sex-tape scandal’ featuring Alnwick, Chris Brown and Liam Lawrence – who Keane had bombed out to Stoke after a bust-up the month prior – made headline news.
In early January, when Martin Jol, who’d evidently remembered Alnwick’s performance at White Hart Lane over a year, offered to give real money AND Hungarian international Marton Fulop, who’d joined the club on loan the month before, in exchange for Alnwick, Keane gratefully accepted.
Fulop and Ward battled it out for the first team jersey for the rest of the season – Fulop only making five first team starts, Ward proving a key player as the team surged to the title.
Alnwick, for all of his promise – which had seen him capped at Under 16, 17, 18, 19 and 21 level for England – made his league debut for Spurs three and a half years later, conceding four in a heavy defeat to Burnley.
A variety of loan spells (seven in total) saw him rack up only 27 games, before he left Spurs permanently in 2012.
It wasn’t until he joined Peterborough in 2014 at the age of 27 that he actually got regular first team football – in the ten years since he’d made his Sunderland debut he made only 68 league appearances, 19 of which had been for the lads.
After Peterborough, of course, he was part of Phil Parkinson’s Bolton side, and will – in all likelihood – rejoin his former Wanderers’ boss at the Stadium of Light this season, as Parkinson searches for cheap, experienced back up for Lee Burge.