After finishing 7th in the FA Carling Premiership the previous year, what was next?
Could we build on it? Would we suffer from “second season syndrome”? Questions were being asked in the summer of 2000 as Peter Reid tentatively strengthened his squad for our second season following our record-breaking promotion campaign.
The opening day of the season saw Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal visit the Stadium of Light and after finishing runners-up the previous year they were eager to hit the ground running. Stanislav Varga on the other hand, would have different ideas as he helped Sunderland to a 1-0 victory on a debut that not many in attendance will ever forget.
After beginning with an impressive victory over Arsenal that came via a Niall Quinn goal, it was then maybe a surprise that we failed to find a win over the next four fixtures. Defeats at Manchester City, Ipswich Town and Manchester United, with a draw at home to West Ham United (a game that saw the debuts of Emerson Thome and Julio Arca) saw us drop down to 17th by mid-September.
Then, we got our season going once more as we lost only one in the next seven games – that came at White Hart Lane against George Graham’s Tottenham Hotspur at the beginning of November. This had propelled Sunderland back up to mid-table ahead of the visit of Glenn Hoddle’s Southampton to the Stadium of Light on this day 21 years ago.
The former England national team coach had taken over the reigns at the Dell less than a year after being relieved of his duties by the Football Association, following Dave Jones stepping down as manager in January 2000.
He steered the Saints to 15th in the table by the end of the season, a mere 14 points behind the Lads as we finished 7th. The 2000-01 season was following much the same pattern with Southampton sitting in 14th place going into the game, having strengthened the squad through the acquisitions of Uwe Rösler and Mark Draper.
In the opening exchanges it was obvious Sunderland were a side full of confidence and no surprise that we were unbeaten in our previous eight fixtures at the Stadium of Light. It was all Sunderland, and after Darren Williams missed a good chance James Beattie produced a moment of audacious magic.
When Jody Craddock failed to clear effectively while under pressure, the ball fell to James Beattie mid-way inside the Sunderland half, where he struck the ball first time with the outside of his foot on the half volley and beyond the fingertips of Thomas Sorensen. In the technical area, Peter Reid knew that he’d seen a moment of quality:
When you see quality like that, you’ve got to hold your hands up. It was just a great piece of football and a wonderful goal.
Sunderland however, picked up where they left off before Beattie’s opener and Niall Quinn provided an equaliser around ten minutes later and it went into the break level.
The second half was a much different game. Glenn Hoddle had earned his money during the interval and Southampton came out the better side, and should have taken the lead before Don Hutchison’s deflected shot gave us the lead once again with only ten minutes left on the clock.
Southampton’s second half performance was worthy of a point, however, and with a minute left in normal time, Dean Richards made it 2-2 with a header from a corner.
And if Sunderland were disappointed with dropping two points at that stage, then three minutes later we would be suddenly very pleased with a solitary point.
Peter Reid was forced to turn his back on the field of play when two minutes into injury-time Jo Tessem went clean through to face Thomas Sorensen, and with time and space there only seemed one outcome. But, from close range, Tessem could only find the advertising boards behind the goal to the relief of the 45,064 in attendance.
Peter Reid was clearly a relieved man after the final whistle:
The first 45 minutes is the best we’ve played this season. Then second-half we switched off, lost discipline and there were that many gaps and holes in us defensively that we were thankful to come away with a point
And Glenn Hoddle was ruing the missed opportunity to pick up three valuable points on the road in FA Carling Premiership.
It was certainly an interesting game - I’ve got no words to express it. We really should have buried the match at the end with Jo Tessem, and Chris Marsden missing from five yards. Character pulled us through and we looked very dangerous in the second half, but you can’t miss chances like that and hope to win games in the Premiership.
Saturday 11th November 2000
FA Carling Premiership
Sunderland 2-2 Southampton
(Quinn 23’, Hutchison 80’ - Beattie 13’, Richards 89’)
Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Craddock, Thome, Gray, Kilbane, Hutchison, Williams, Rae, Phillips, Quinn, Substitutes not used: Macho, Varga, Thirlwell, Dichio, Reddy
Southampton: Jones, Dodd, Marsden, Lundekvam, Richards, Oakley, Beattie, Pahars (Rosler), Bridge, El Khalej (Kachloul), Tessem. Substitutes not used: Moss, Davies, Benali,