The signing of Claudio Reyna was a big deal for Peter Reid and Sunderland. After two consecutive 7th placed finishes, Reid had signed French striker Lilian Laslandes and Swiss full back Bernt Haas to strengthen the team, but the early season loss of the superb Don Hutchison had knocked the stuffing out of the team and the fans.
It seemed like a distinct sign of lack of ambition to let Hutchison leave. We’d signed him the season before – Everton’s captain and a current Scotland international – and he’d been a revelation, primarily playing deployed in an unfamiliar position on the right hand side of midfield. But alleged broken promises over a new deal led to a hasty exit to West Ham only three games into the new season, and the rumoured deal that would see Trevor Sinclair head to Wearside failed to materialise.
On the field, we’d made a decent start to the season, and by the end of September we were sitting fifth in the table. But a run of only two wins in nine saw us drop to 13th as Everton came to town for the final fixture before Christmas – by which time we’d failed to score a first half goal for 14 successive league games.
The week before, Reid had pounced for the signature of Rangers captain, Claudio Reyna.
The USA international skipper joined the club for £4.75m from Dick Advocaat’s side, and it was seen as a statement of intent.
Reyna told the club’s website:
I’m just glad to finally complete the move because it has been ongoing for a while.
I’m still a bit out of it because it’s been a long night but it was a great way to leave Rangers. I said my goodbyes to all the lads and it was pretty emotional - they were great with me. This is a fantastic opportunity and challenge for me.
I’m ambitious to play in the Premiership and I’ve joined a club with great support and capable of going places. I really pushed for this move to happen but Rangers wanted me to play in Paris last night. I’m just glad it is all sorted.
Reyna made his debut in a 2-0 away defeat at Southampton, and on this day 20 years ago he made his first appearance for the club at the Stadium of Light.
It had been snowing during the days that preceded the game, and the match was in doubt in the run up to kick off, but more than 48,000 still piled into the stadium to see the lads take on an Everton side managed by Walter Smith and featuring Paul Gascoigne.
It was Gazza who came closest to opening the scoring in the first half, curling a free kick over Sorensen’s crossbar.
Gascoigne, who was 34 at the time, was rumoured to be on the verge of an England recall for the upcoming summer World Cup. That failed to materialised, but it’s sometimes easy to forget the fact that Gazza was still playing to a very high standard in the Premier League midway through his fourth decade.
Sunderland had the best of the first half, ex-mag Steve Watson clearing a Darren Williams effort on the line, while the visitors had to substitute midfielder Thomas Gravesen after only 27 minutes. Already on a yellow card after a third minute booking, the volatile Danish international was extremely fortunate to be let off with a warning from referee Barry Knight after a clear foul on Julio Arca. Ninety nine times out of 100, he’d have received another yellow. Walter Smith dragged him off immediately.
Gazza was at the centre of the action in the second half, too – picking up a yellow for a foul on Reyna, setting up Alexandersson and testing Sorensen with a long range shot, while Kevin Phillips went close for the home team.
But it was Sunderland’s former Rangers man, Reyna, who had the most lasting impact on the game.
With 13 minutes left on the clock, he tapped in from a couple of yards out, past Sunderland fan Steve Simonsen, after the keeper had saved his first effort. 1-0 to Sunderland, and Reyna’s SAFC career was off to the very best of starts.
Sunderland 1-0 Everton
Crowd: 48,013 Goal: Reyna, 77.
Sunderland: Sorensen, Haas, Gray, Reyna, Williams, Thome, McAteer, McCann, Quinn (Kyle 79), Phillips, Arca. Subs not used: Macho, McCartney, Thirlwell, Kilbane.
Everton: Simonsen, Watson, Naysmith, Graveson (Alexanderson 27), Xavier, Unsworth, Tal (Blomqvist 74), Gascoigne, Moore, Radzinski (Chadwick 89), Gemmill. Subs not used: Gerrard, Cleland.