As far as transfer windows go, Roy Keane’s first two are up there with our best. Everyone remembers the excitement of the summer deadline day, when Graham Kavanagh, Liam Miller, David Connolly, Ross Wallace, Stan Varga and Dwight Yorke arrived at the Stadium of Light, but it was his January signings that arguably had a bigger effect on the team’s surge up the table in the second half of the campaign.
And, while everyone remembers the calm performances of Jonny Evans, the dynamism – and long-range goals – provided by Carlos Edwards, and even the steady defence capability of Danny Simpson, the impact of one of Keane’s other January signing made is often under-appreciated.
31-year-old Stern John was a striker who’d earned a good reputation at international level – alongside Yorke and Edwards – and had clocked up around 250 appearances over eight years in English football, playing primarily for Forest and Birmingham.
He was brought in by Keane to provide a physical presence up front – David Connolly was beginning to establish himself as a regular, and while the likes of Daryl Murphy and Anthony Stokes were capable of providing a goal threat, they lacked a physical threat that John provided, despite measuring in at 5’ 11”.
Signed from Coventry for an undisclosed fee, he made his debut against the Sky Blues at the Stadium of Light. In Coventry’s side that day was Kevin Kyle, who – in one of his last acts as Sunderland manager – Niall Quinn had sold for £600,000.
Incidentally, Kyle scored only three goals that campaign for Coventry, and certainly isn’t held in high regard in that part of the country. It’s a shame – Kyle had emerged as a genuine threat for Sunderland under Mick McCarthy, but a serious hip injury affected him badly.
I digress, but it’s also worth noting that also in the Coventry team that day – a side incidentally managed by Reidy’s former sidekick Adrian Heath – was Kevin Thornton, brother of Sean, formerly of this parish.
Sunderland: Ward, Whitehead, Nosworthy, Varga, Collins, Edwards, Leadbitter (Simpson 72), Yorke, Wallace (Hysen 61), John, Murphy (Stokes 60). Subs not used: Fulop, Clarke.
It was a steady rather than spectacular, but ultimately successful day for Keane’s men. And, while John didn’t mark the occasion with a goal against his former employers, his countrymen did – Yorke notching in the first half, a close-range header after Wallace’s free kick had caused confusion.
The second came towards the end of the contest, Edwards scoring from distance, with the help of a deflection off a Coventry head. It was Carlos’s first goal at the Stadium of Light – a more memorable one would follow.
Stern John did get off the mark a couple of games later, scoring two in a 4-0 demolition of Southend as the championship bandwagon began to roll.
He started 10 games and made a further five sub appearances, scoring four goals, and played an important part as we kickstarted our campaign.
The following season, in the Premier League, the ruthless Keane afforded him only one outing, a half-hour run out against Birmingham, when he got a dramatic equaliser in the last minute of the game; Roy O’Donovan providing the assist by sitting on the keeper.
It was to prove John’s last action for Sunderland, as he headed to Southampton a couple of weeks later as part of the deal that took another Trinidad and Tobago striker, Kenwyne Jones, north.