Thirteen years ago, Roy Keane was struggling to take us to the next level that see us improve on our final position of 15th the previous year.
A new batch of players were recruited in an attempt to avoid looking over our shoulders, with names that included Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque, El Hadji Diouf and Djibril Cissé.
But as we approached the halfway point of the season, the highlight of the season was a 2-1 home win over Newcastle as we slipped into the relegation zone following a thumping 1-4 defeat on home soil against Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers.
Despite taking the lead against Bolton, it was our sixth defeat in seven games and the pressure was building on Keane after spending around £70m on 33 signings since taking the job on and it came across in his post-match comments:
I ask myself every day if I’m the right man for Sunderland. I asked myself this morning and I said I was. Sunday morning, if the answer’s no, we’ll have to look at it.
The defeat to Bolton was Saturday 29th November 2008, and on the following Thursday, Roy Keane resigned as manager of Sunderland.
As it turned out, the intervening days has been taken up with Niall Quinn attempting to persuade Keane to remain in his post, but Keane isn’t exactly known for changing his mind once he has made a decision and to Quinn’s disappointment, he reluctantly accepted his resignation.
The board has reluctantly accepted his decision and wish him and his family well for the future. He lifted this place off its knees, he is a tremendous influence.
Five weeks ago (after beating Newcastle) people were dancing in the streets of Sunderland. It’s a funny world football and I hoped I’d never have to do this day. I spoke many times about Roy and I being in a partnership and it feels like the partnership has dissolved now.
Roy felt he had completed his journey here, and he just felt he didn’t want to get it unstuck any further and find ourselves in deeper, darker territory. That’s the measure of the guy.
In situations like this, I am sure nine times out of 10 the chairman is saying how the manager was trying to keep his job. It was the other way round. Once he made his decision, I said to him, ‘I know you too well, Roy, to try to overturn it now’.
I wish him real well in the future. He’ll get a bit of time to himself now to re-charge but I think we all know the Premiership hasn’t seen the last of him. He’s got great things to come.
Within 48 hours of the turmoil that remained in the wake of Roy Keane leaving, we had the small matter of a Premier League fixture at Old Trafford and Ricky Sbragia was put in temporary charge of on-the-field affairs, with coach Neil Bailey and player-coach Dwight Yorke assisting following the departure of assistant manager Tony Loughlan.
To hear more on the events of Keane’s departure and Sbragia’s appointment, listen to our podcast with Ricky Sbragia here.
There was a fear that the week’s events would result in a heavy defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side who were chasing down Liverpool and Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, having beaten rivals Manchester City the previous week via a Wayne Rooney goal.
And predictably, it was all one-way traffic, but it was a gritty display as we showed a new fighting spirit that provided hope the season might not be as much of a struggle as our league position suggested.
Marton Fulop, who came in for the injured Craig Gordon, was in inspired form for the lads in goal as everything that got beyond our back four, but just before the hour mark the biggest cheer was reserved for the introduction of Carlos Tevez from the bench as the Old Trafford crowd began to groan at their side’s inability to breakdown a resolute Sunderland.
Ten minutes later however, it was the Lads who could have nicked a goal when Kenwyn Jones’ introduction from the bench provided a new outlet and as a result El Hadji Diouf forced a good save from Edwin Van der Sar in the United goal.
But, almost inevitably, and as they did on so many occasions under Sir Alex Ferguson, they waited until the 91st minute to take all three points. Of all the attacking flair on show, it came down to Nemanja Vidic to win the game after he found the net when a Michael Carrick rebounded back of the post.
But temporary manager Ricky Sbragia was happy enough with what he had seen to think results might improve as the season progressed.
We stuck in there, we were under severe pressure the whole game. Credit to the players, I thought we showed a good spirit, we worked ever so well and, on top of that, after Thursday’s episode (Keane’s resignation), the attitude was first class.
A lot of the players came to the club because of Roy. We were disappointed. All the staff were disappointed and it came as a shock.
Saturday 6th December, 2008
Barclays Premier League
Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland
Sunderland: Fulop, Chimbonda, Ferdinand, Collins, Bardsley, Malbranque, Yorke (Tainio), Whitehead (Edwards), Reid, Diouf, Cissé (Jones) Substitutes not used: Colgan, Nosworthy, Leadbitter, Murphy
Manchester United: Van Der Sar, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Park (Tevez), Carrick, Fletcher (Anderson), Ronaldo (Giggs), Berbatov, Rooney Substitutes not used: Kuszczak, Neville, Nani