A midweek cup tie in late November, an evening kick-off at home, the big boys in town... all this combined to draw a crowd of over 47,500 to the Stadium of Light to witness our first victory over Manchester United at the club’s shiny new home.
The occasion was made all the more poignant by the minute’s silence observed before kick-off following the passing of Sunderland legend Len Shackleton at the age of 78 the day before.
And what a game those 47,543 people saw - a blood and thunder encounter that had just about everything you could want. It was definitely a second-string United side, but even without the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Teddy Sheringham, their starting lineup was packed full of international talent, including future Sunderland players Dwight Yorke and John O’Shea and future Sunderland coaches Raimond Van Der Gouw and Michael Clegg.
The Red Devils were reigning Premiership champions, but Peter Reid still made a number of changes to the side that had beaten Charlton Athletic 1-0 away three days before, with Danny Dicho coming in for Niall Quinn and Julio Arca replacing Kevin Kilbane on the left wing.
Sunderland had lost their two previous games against Alex Ferguson’s side 4-0 and 3-0 away from home (the previous season’s league clash at the Stadium of Light was a memorable 2-2 draw) and it seemed ominous when Trinidadian striker Yorke, still absolutely in his prime at this stage, opened the scoring, rounding off a great move by the visitors in the 30th minute. The BBC’s match report describes the goal in fantastic detail:
In a sweeping counter-attacking move typical of United, the visitors seemed to be on the defensive before Quinton Fortune received the ball in midfield.
He played the ball quickly through to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who then found Yorke.
He had the ball taken off him by defender Jody Craddock when shaping to shoot only for United’s Jonathan Greening to gather the loose ball.
He eased the ball into Yorke’s path and this time the striker made no mistake as he shot fiercely into the roof of the net.
Kevin Phillips came closest to an equaliser shortly before half time, but his shot rattled the crossbar. However, he was instrumental in getting Sunderland level with 15 minutes remaining of the second half, when he took a corner that the Argentinian nodded home.
Eight minutes later, Yorke was shown a straight red card by referee Mark Halsey after going in for a challenge with Sunderland’s Brazilian defender Emerson Thome. This came shortly after United had been denied a penalty when Thomas Sorensen appeared to bring down Jonathan Greening in the box.
Super Kev had another couple of chances to win the game in normal time, but eventually, he did get the winner ten minutes into extra time and broke his run of seven games without a goal. The goal came via the penalty spot after O’Shea had brought down Phillips in the box, and settled the tie for the home side.
The game saw the debut appearance in a Manchester United shirt of future Sunderland striker David Healy, who had come through the ranks at the Old Trafford club. He came off the bench five minutes into extra time, replacing Luke Chadwick, and would only play one further game – his league debut – before being loaned out and eventually transferring to Preston North End where he made his name.
Sunderland fans left the ground that night thinking this might well be the season when we claimed our first League Cup, in an era when ambitious mid-ranking Premier League teams genuinely had a shot at silverware in this competition.