The summer of 2008 was an odd one. After the euphoria of an unlikely promotion in which we rose from rock bottom of the Coca-Cola Championship in 2006-07, we backed the manager and spent big to achieve 15th place finish in the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Big money had been spent on the likes of Craig Gordon, Dickson Etuhu, Paul McShane, Kieran Richardson, Michael Chopra, Greg Halford, Russel Anderson, Danny Higginbotham, Kenwyne Jones, Phil Bardsley, Rade Prica and Andy Reid over the course of that first season - which only highlighted the gulf that we needed to bridge to finish three points clear of the drop.
But after the final whistle ended following a defeat to Arsenal on the last day of the season at the Stadium of Light and our final position of relative safety was locked in, questions were being asked as to what might follow - and if the fans were asking that question then no doubt Roy Keane was having similar thoughts.
He has gone on record recently stating that he was disappointed with that first crack at the Premier League at the time and felt we should be aiming higher, this thought was tempered with an admittance that looking back he realises he was wrong.
Considering the giant leap we took in the first season with the ex-Manchester United legend at the helm, finishing 15th was an achievement and spending two or three years consolidating our place in the Premier League would have been celebrated - but Keane was impatient to take us to the next level.
This meant that in the summer of 2008 we took a different direction in the transfer market. It was clear that a calibre of player was now signing for the club that had a bit more Premier League experience under their belt and on the opening day of the season, Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque and El Hadji Diouf all made their debut in a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at the Stadium of Light.
Djibril Cisse and Anton Ferdinand also made their debuts before the end of the transfer window and it was clear that the new players had a bit more attitude and swagger about them, but ultimately it wouldn’t prove the right mix for a side realistically still hoping to survive.
The victory over Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light towards the end of October lifted us into 9th place, but it was a sign of how far we still had to come in that we couldn’t back it up with another victory at Stoke City four days later - in fact, Roy Keane only managed to win back-to-back Premier League victories once in a run of three the previous season.
Next up, on this day 13 years ago, was a trip to Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea who began the day sitting second, three points behind early league leaders Liverpool - who had ended the Blues 86-match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge the previous weekend.
We started the game defending reasonably well, until an early Deco shot looped and hit the top of the crossbar ringing the alarm bells in the away end. It would take 27 minutes for the home side to eventually make the breakthrough when a Joe Cole shot was saved by Marton Fulop and Alex tapped home for Chelsea’s 1,000th Premier League goal.
Three minutes later, it was Anelka’s turn to finish at close range to make it two on the half hour in the heavy rain in the capital. Just before the break, it was well and truly game over for Sunderland. Firstly, Anelka made it three with another close range finish, and then Roy Keane was sent to the stands for demanding a foul on Pascal Chimbonda in the build-up.
At half-time, it was a case of limiting the damage when Keane made a double change. Once academy product was replaced when El Hadji Diouf replaced Martyn Waghorn, and another joined the action to make his debut for the club when Jordan Henderson replaced Steed Malbranque.
The second half began as much as the first, even though Chelsea were taking things easy with the prospect of a trip to Roma in the Champions League three days later. Six minutes later, Frank Lampard scored his 100th league goal with an impressive header after good work from Joe Cole.
And a minute later, Anelka completed the rout, and his hat-trick when he finished a Malouda cross. Sunderland were no match for Chelsea on the day and Roy Keane was quick to admit it:
It was a tough afternoon. We got outclassed by a top, top team and there is no shame in that. I was pleased my players kept going.
We were always under pressure and we have seen Chelsea do this to a lot of teams this season - I don’t have a problem praising the opposition. We have to take our lesson and look to bounce back.
I wonder what happened to that Henderson lad...
Saturday 1st November 2008
Barclays Premier League
Sunderland: Fulop, Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, McCartney, Malbranque (Henderson), Tainio, Whitehead, Richardson, Waghorn (Diouf), Jones (Cisse) Substitutes not used: Colgan, Bardsley, Reid, Meyler
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, A. Cole (Bridge), Obi Mikel, Lampard, Deco, J. Cole (Drogba), Malouda, Anelka (Miniero) Substitutes not used: Hilario, Belletti, Ivanovic, Kalou