It’s one of the Stadium of Light’s iconic moments.
Injury time against reigning champions Manchester City, the scoreline level. A superb defensive performance had looked like it could gain the lads a point before Sunderland launched a last-minute counter-attack.
Sunderland, urged forward by O’Neill, played the ball out left to South Korean striker Ji. With seconds left on the clock, he played a one-two with Sessegnon, rounded Joe Hart...
...and tapped it into the net.
Cue mass celebration.
Yes, it may have been offside – I’m sure VAR would have had a long, clinical look at it, and probably would have decided that the freckle on Ji’s left testicle was marginally ahead of the last defender – but these were simpler times. Better times.
There was no flag from the lino, and the Stadium of Light erupted.
Coming into the game, Sunderland were facing something of an injury crisis. Kieren Westwood, who’d been O’Neill’s first choice up to now, had called in sick with a dose of flu.
Today, we’d have praised him for stopping the spread, not putting his teammates and the opposition at risk of catching whatever he had.
At the time, he faced thinly-veiled criticism for not getting off his sickbed to help out the lads. Simpler times. Better times.
Mignolet stepped up, a face mask protecting his flattened nose suffered against Aston Villa a couple of months earlier. He shouldn’t have played, but he did and turned in a stellar performance. Westwood never played for O’Neill again.
A makeshift defence featured Craig Gardner and Jack Colback as fullbacks in place of Bardsley and Richardson, while the introduction of Matt Kilgallon before the half-hour in place of the injured Wes Brown provoked puzzled looks and bemused glances before we remembered he was still actually on our books. Another injury, and O’Neill would likely have found Lord Lucan to fill in.
James McClean, who’d been a revelation in O’Neill’s early days, was given his debut. It’s a shame the way things subsequently went with McClean – he was a really exciting player for a while there, and his attitude is something we’ve missed since. Yes, he shares some controversial opinions, but he could – and should – have done more at Sunderland.
The subs illustrated the depth of the injuries facing the club – Louis Laing, Trevor Carson and Ryan Noble were all on the bench. The trio never managed a league start for the club.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Gardner, O’Shea, Brown (Kilgallon 26), Colback, Larsson, Cattermole, Vaughan (Elmohamady 82), McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner (Ji 78). Subs not used: Carson, Laing, Meyler, Noble.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov (Richards 67), Nasri (Silva 55), De Jong (Aguero 46), Toure, Barry, Johnson, Dzeko. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Clichy, Savic, Milner.
The 1-0 last-minute scoreline may suggest an uneventful game, but nothing could be further from the truth. Bendtner and Sessegnon both went close either side of half time, while Dzeko and Richards hit the woodwork for City.
McClean came close to marking his debut with a goal, while future Sunderland winger Johnson, who’d score a last-minute equaliser in this fixture two seasons prior, made life difficult for Gardner and Colback.
In the game the season before, it was a last-minute Darren Bent penalty that was the only goal of the game, and this time it was Ji.
It was certainly the South Korean’s best moment in a Sunderland shirt – and what a moment it was.