It was our third year in our new home, and for the first time, the Stadium of Light was hosting Premier League football.
We had swept everything aside the previous year in Nationwide Football League Division One, where we accumulated 105 points and provided the new stadium it’s first title winning season.
There were fears after our opening day capitulation at Stamford Bridge, where future manager Gustavo Poyet was at his best alongside an inspired Gianfranco Zola, that it would be a season of struggle. Peter Reid however, had other ideas and in new signings Stefan Schwarz and Steve Bould he displayed an intent for Sunderland to aim higher than mere survival.
After that opening day 4-0 defeat in the capital, Sunderland went on an incredible run and as the festive period was upon us, sat third in behind Manchester United and David O’Leary’s young Leeds United side.
Unfortunately, after beating Southampton at home on the 18th December, we had to wait until the 25th March to win another Premier League fixture, where after a run of eleven without a win, we managed to overcome Walter Smith’s Everton 2-1 at home.
This was followed by another victory away from home, this time on the south coast, and once again against Glenn Hoddle’s Southampton. This meant Peter Reid’s side had managed to clamber back to sixth, which was good enough to achieve a place in the old UEFA Cup.
Although Niall Quinn had found the form of his life in the twilight of his career and Kevin Phillips was going from strength to strength, especially after making his debut for England in the October, it was clear that our first choice partnership needed some support.
Danny Dichio was the only real support but had spent most of the season out on loan, which left Michael Reddy as the main backup, and reinforcements were required.
No doubt the scouting team were providing new names to the Sunderland management on a daily basis, but what happened next has gone down in folklore - mainly because to this day nobody really knows what the real story was.
Of all the names linked to the club, Sunderland settled on Honduran international Milton Nunez from Uruguayan outfit Nacional, although the striker was on-loan at Greek side PAOK at the time. The transfer fee was said to be around £1.6 million and his nickname was reportedly ‘Tyson’ - so what could possibly go wrong?
Well, everything apparently - even to the point that it was reported that we’d signed the wrong player. There were rumours Eduardo Bennett and Eduardo Valencia were on Sunderland’s radar, or a combination of both, or neither, but here Nunez was, training at the Academy of Light as a Premier League player.
Fans had been able to record a glimpse of the new signing at a record breaking reserve game against Manchester United where he was one of the main reasons behind the almost 30,000 strong crowd, where if memory serves me right, the other main reason was that it was free admission.
There was a strong hushed conversation throughout the crowd on his entrance as substitute, when people realised he wasn’t actually further away than the other players on the field.
It was only when he stood directly alongside a defender that I realised he was only 5’4” in height, but all was not lost and he didn’t really get a touch of the ball to show us what he could do.
He then found himself on the bench for the victory at The Dell, where Dichio was the one to replace Niall Quinn in the final moments as Sunderland won 2-1. It would be in the next fixture that Nunez had his fifteen minutes of fame as we faced Egil Olsen’s Wimbledon at the Stadium of Light.
The Dons were in threat of being dragged back into a relegation dog fight as Sunderland were chasing down John Gregory’s Aston Villa in a push to qualify for Europe.
Peter Reid decided to start with Michael Gray which meant Nicky Summerbee was relegated to the bench despite being an ever-present in the side up to mid-January, and it was Reid’s side who threatened early on with a Jody Craddock shot being well saved by Neil Sullivan.
Sunderland dominated proceedings with Wimbledon looking threatening on the break, until the home side took the lead just before the hour. The in-form Alex Rae delivered a great ball from the right hand side that Niall Quinn fired past Neil Sullivan.
The home fans were probably expecting Sunderland to put the game to bed at that point but with just under twenty minutes left on the clock, Andreas Lund laid the ball of to Michael Hughes to fire in a shot, that took a wicked deflection of Eric Roy and ended up putting Wimbledon level.
Two minutes later, Milton Nunez made his bow, replacing Michael Gray with fifteen minutes left on the clock. I was there, and I fully admit to not remembering a thing about it, there maybe 7 or 8 reasons why, but I have no recollection.
But, with eight minutes remaining, with the Wimbledon defenders surrounding Niall Quinn from an Alex Rae corner, Kevin Kilbane manged to net his first Premier League goal for Sunderland to claim all three points.
As it turned out, we won two of the last six and agonisingly missed out on qualification for the UEFA Cup, by goal difference.
As for Milton ‘Tyson’ Nunez, well we ended up taking legal action against his agent and recouped most of the transfer fee, and now he is forever blessed/haunted (delete as appropriate) to be included on lists of worst ever Premier League strikers, along with the likes of Andrea Silenzi, Andreas Andersson, Michele Padovano, Martin Dahlin...
Sunderland: Sorensen, Holloway, Craddock, Williams, Makin, Gray (Nunez), Roy (Thirlwell), Rae, Kilbane, Quinn, Phillips Substitutes not used: Marriott, Summerbee, Dichio
Wimbledon: Sullivan, Jupp, Cunningham, Blackwell, Hreidarsson, Hughes, Anderson, Badir (Leaburn), Gayle, Lund, Euell Substitutes not used: Davis, Andresen, Roberts, Francis