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On This Day: 22 Feb 2003 - Super Kev scores his last ever goal for Sunderland

On this day 18 years ago, Kevin Phillips scored the last of his 130 goals for Sunderland towards the end of a horrific season which heralded the end of an era.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Birmingham City v Sunderland Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

The signs were there from the beginning of the calendar year, but at the start of the 2002-03 season were we willing Peter Reid to find that magic again.

It was like the club and the fans had all collectively got p*ssed and had no memory of the second half of the previous season as we baked in the summer sunshine of pre-season.

After two seasons of finishing 7th in the Premier League, which itself followed two seasons that accumulated 195 points, the question on everyone’s mind was - what next? Was now the time to push for that elusive European place, or would it all come crashing down?

Peter Reid’s Sunderland were sitting 10th in the Premier League at the end of December 2001 following two back-to-back victories over Everton and Blackburn Rovers. Up next was a trip to Portman Road to face George Burley’s Ipswich Town.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Arsenal v Sunderland
Peter Reid during his last game as manager of Sunderland which ended in defeat at Arsenal in October 2002
Photo by Nigel French/EMPICS via Getty Images

Our trip to East Anglia turned out to be a turning point as we found ourselves 4-0 down by half-time. Ipswich only added one more in the second half to eventually win 5-0, but it was the impact on the second half of our season where the defeat was felt most.

Sunderland won only three more games in the remaining 18 Premier League fixtures and finished one place and four points above the drop zone - directly above our opponents that day Ipswich Town who were relegated.

Ahead of the new season in the summer of 2002, Peter Reid strengthened the side with the signings of Stephen Wright from Liverpool for £3 million, Matt Piper from Leicester City for £3.5 million and Phil Babb on a free transfer from Sporting Lisbon.

As Niall Quinn became increasingly impacted by an ongoing back problem and Kevin Phillips struggling for goals for the first time since his move from Watford in 1997, with 11 goals the previous year - the big question was: where Sunderland’s goals were going to come from?

Kolo Toure of Arsenal and Matt Piper of Sunderland
Matt Piper
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The season got underway without any reinforcements up top, as Sunderland drew at Blackburn Rovers on the opening day, which was followed by a home defeat to Everton and a victory at Elland Road. The single Jason McAteer goal that bagged all three points against Terry Venables’ Leeds United side was Sunderland’s only strike in the opening three games, which convinced Peter Reid to take the plunge into the transfer market.

The result of which was Tore Andre Flo from Glasgow Rangers, and Marcus Stewart from recently relegated Ipswich Town. The combined fee was thought to be in the region of around £10 million and there was a sense that this was a last throw of the dice for Peter Reid.

Five weeks later, after a 3-1 defeat at league leaders Arsenal, he was sacked as manager of Sunderland. Out of left-field, Bob Murray made the appointment of Howard Wilkinson to succeed Reid in the Sunderland hot seat.

It was the ninth Premier League game of the season when Murray called time on Reid’s tenure at the Stadium of Light - up to that point Sunderland had two victories on the board. During the remaining 29 Premier League fixtures, only two more victories were added to that total.

Howard Wilkinson New Manager
Howard Wilkinson was unveiled as Sunderland manager by Chairman Bob Murray in October 2002
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

By the time the 22nd February had come around, Sunderland were locked to the foot of the table, six points from safety, on the back of a run of seven defeats in eight games and the pressure was on Wilkinson after four months in charge.

Next up, it was Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough visiting the Stadium of Light, who were sitting just below mid-table with ambitions to look further up the table, and after 21 minutes, almost inevitably, took the lead.

A Geremi corner wasn’t dealt with by the Sunderland defence, and after a smart save from Sorenson, Chris Riggott smashed the ball into the roof of the net from close range. Seven minutes later, history repeated itself when a lob over the top of the Sunderland defence which fell to Gareth Southgate whose shot rebounded back off the post and into the path of Chris Riggott who once again smashed it into the roof off the net.

Boos rang around the Stadium of Light as Sunderland looked dead and buried before the half hour mark. It would take until just before the hour mark before the home fans actually had something to cheer.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough
Chris Riggott celebrates scoring for Middlesbrough at Sunderland in February 2003
Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Gavin McCann cushioned a header to Phillips who stood around 35-yards from goal, the England international turned and drove at the Boro’ back four. After two touches, he struck it from outside the box and beat Mark Schwarzer to his left right into the bottom corner.

It was Kevin Phillips sixth Premier League goal of the season and number 130 of his Sunderland career, which was celebrated with a resigned look and a request for someone to retrieve the ball in the hope we might salvage a point. We didn’t.

Three minutes later Kevin Kilbane mis-hit a back pass to Sorenson and Malcolm Christie raced through to slot it past the Sunderland goalkeeper to put the game back out of sight of the home side.

Kevin Phillips of Sunderland waves goodbye to the fans who have held him close to their hearts
Kevin Phillips waves goodbye to the Sunderland crowd after a 4-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on the final day of the 2002-03 season
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

After the following fixture that once again ended in defeat at Fulham, Howard Wilkinson was sacked as Sunderland manager, and would eventually be replaced by Mick McCarthy.

It was a season that saw the end of Peter Reid at Sunderland, as well as final games in the red and white stripes for Niall Quinn, Claudio Reyna, Stefan Schwarz, Emerson Thome, Thomas Sorenson, Gavin McCann, Jody Craddock and of course Kevin Phillips.

All things must come to an end, but did it really need to end like like that?

Sunderland: Sorenson, Wright, Craddock, El Karkouri, Gray (Arca), McAteer, McCann, Kilbane (Proctor), Bellion (Piper), Flo, Phillips Substitutes not used: Macho, Babb

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Queudure (Murphy), Southgate, Riggott, Cooper, Germei, Boateng, Christie (Nemeth), Ricketts, Greening Substitutes not used: Crossley, Job, Maccarone

Attendance: 42,134

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