On this day in 2002, Marcus Stewart made his Sunderland debut in a heavy defeat away to Middlesbrough.
Stewart had been signed by Peter Reid as part of that (in)famous deadline day double which also featured Tore Andre Flo. And while Flo had made an instant impact with his equaliser against Manchester United the week prior, Stewart failed to make his mark when partnering Flo in the absence of Kevin Phillips ten days later.
The defeat to Middlesbrough marked the start of a three game losing streak, during which we conceded eight and scored none.
And that effectively saw off Reid, who was actually sacked after a 1-0 home win over Villa, a 7-0 away win at Cambridge and a 3-1 reversal at Highbury, during which Thomas Sorensen suffered an injury that put him on the sidelines for a significant spell. Hardly a sackable three game run.
Stewart had been relegated from the Premier League with Ipswich the season prior. Ipswich had finished 18th, just four points behind 17th placed… Sunderland.
He’d established a name for himself in the lower leagues, first at Bristol Rovers and then at Huddersfield, from whom Ipswich bought him towards the end of 99-00. It was a controversial move, in that Huddersfield and Ipswich were vying for promotion to the top flight – Stewart’s goals securing Ipswich’s elevation.
Much like Kevin Phillips the season before, Stewart’s first season in the Premier League was impressive, scoring 19 goals as the team finished 5th.
So it was with some hope that Stewart arrived at Sunderland, but he wasn’t able to establish himself in the team – his return of six goals in 14 starts stood up ratio-wise, however only one of those was in the league.
It wasn’t until the next season under Mick McCarthy – in the Championship of course – that Stewart really got going at Sunderland. With a more prominent role in the team after Phillips’ departure, he was a key player as we gained promotion at the second attempt. Smart movement and cool finishing were hallmarks of his game, and he was a very effective player for us – his goal at Wigan to (almost) seal promotion, when three quarters of the ground was red and white, will live long in the memory.
Overall, he scored 39 in 114 games for us, and – wrongly, perhaps – left the club aged 32, believing he couldn’t cut it at Premier League level any more.
If he knew his replacements were Andy Gray and Anthony Le Tallec, he’d probably have felt differently.