Back in January 2001, we were second in the Premier League after beating West Ham 2-0 at Upton Park.
We’d been on a top flight high for 18 months. After finishing seventh in our first season we’d strengthened the team with the addition of Don Hutchison, Julio Arca and Emerson Thome, among others, and were looking like serious contenders for a Champions League place, at least.
Over the six games that followed the win at West Ham, however, we picked up only three points. From a fixture list that included games against Bradford, Villa, Derby and Leicester it was a poor return.
So we headed to the capital once again – still fourth in the league but on a downward trajectory – looking to get our season back on track.
Chris Makin and Nicky Summerbee had been integral on the right hand side for us over the previous couple of seasons, however things were changing. Peter Reid was never averse to cutting off his nose, regardless of what it might do to his face, and he’d first bombed out Summerbee, then jettisoned Makin after an alleged falling out.
While the popular full back started against Aston Villa the Monday before the Chelsea fixture, he would never play for Sunderland again, and was sold to Ipswich shortly after.
Reid had preempted this by bringing in 30-year-old French right back Patrice Carteron on loan from St Etienne. Carteron had been named Ligue 1’s top full back for a couple of years in a row, and after playing in a trial game at the Stadium of Light Reid extended his stay until the end of the season.
He was immediately thrust into first team action at Stamford Bridge in a team that included Hutchison in a more advanced role, replacing the injured Niall Quinn.
Sunderland: Sorensen, Carteron, Craddock, Thome, Gray, Kilbane, McCann, Schwarz, Arca, Hutchison, Phillips. Subs: Macho, Williams, Varga, T Butler, Dichio.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Ferrer, Lebouef, Desailly, Le Saux, Wise, Jokanovic, Stanic, Gronkjaer, Gudjohnsen, Hasselbaink. Subs: De Goey, Terry, Poyet, Zola, Dalla Bona.
Chelsea almost got off to an early start, with Gronkjaer netting after a Hasselbaink pass, but the winger was deemed offside and the goal chalked off.
Carteron, chasing back, collided with the post, telling the Sunderland Echo:
I was battling with one of their players when they scored a goal, which was ruled offside, but it was raining and my leg hit the post - and if it wasn’t my first game then I don’t think I could have stayed on the field.
My leg was so painful, it was a nightmare.
But I said to myself, ‘you don’t have the choice. If you have to die today, you have to die today - but you will stay on the field.’
Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary, but Chelsea did take the lead thanks to Carteron’s compatriot Desailly, who netted from a millimetre out after Gudjohnsen had put the ball across from a tight angle.
We levelled soon after, however, Hutchison sweeping home Arca’s free kick from the right.
Hutchison was such an important player that season – usually operating from the right, he possessed a lovely touch, had genuine quality and was a constant goal threat. We should have moved heaven and earth to keep him at the club. We didn’t, and ultimately paid the price. What was that about Reid cutting his nose off again?
Anyway, back to the game. Gudjohnsen broke the offside trap to calmly put the hosts head – dispatching past Sorensen via the underside of the bar. At half time Ranieri’s men had a 2-1 lead, and it looked as though our poor run of form was about to continue.
Whatever the gaffer said at half time, however, worked.
Hutch headed home from a Phillips cross to level, and on the hour mark Gavin McCann wriggled into space and finished neatly from a Hutchison pass. 3-2, and 30 minutes to play.
We sealed the deal with 10 minutes left, Phillips – who was struggling to hit the heights of the previous season in goalscoring terms at least – finishing from close range after McCann had closed down Cudicini.
After not being able to break into the England side with any regularity despite scoring 30 the season before, I always felt Phillips tried to change his game to be more of a ‘footballer’ than ‘just’ a goalscorer. The logic was understandable – if winning the European Golden Boot wasn’t enough to get a regular start for your country, what was?
Regardless, it was ultimately to his, and our, detriment.
The game finished 4-2, and it was a result that gave us our first win at Chelsea since 1957. But unfortunately it didn’t provoke an upturn in form. We only managed another two victories that season – both in the final three games of the season – by which time we’d not just fallen off the pace, we’d forgotten what the pace was.
After dropping down to eighth, we managed to retrieve seventh spot courtesy of those two late victories, missing out on a European place by four points to Chelsea. Ipswich, Makin’s new club, finished fifth, nine points ahead of us.
While seventh the previous year was a huge success, seventh this season seemed like failure. And, unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end for Reid.
Carteron, meanwhile, played a further seven games, scoring a goal in the 1-1 derby at the SOL. He was a cracking player, and someone we should have brought in permanently.
Reidy thought differently, however – and decided Makin’s long-term successor should be Bernt Haas, who ironically enough made his debut against Makin’s Ipswich on the opening day of the following season.
But that’s another story, for another day.