Our last title winning season, 14 years ago - feels like an eternity - and claiming the title all came down to the last day of the season.
And what a season it was - all on the back of an embarrassing relegation from the Premier League that awarded us an unwanted record for the lowest points total in Premier League history. Fortunately Derby County would come to our rescue and smash our record of 15 points by impressively taking only 11 during 2007/08.
But it was a disaster. We’d returned to the Premier League armed with Jon Stead and Anthony Le Tallac, and it’s fair to say we didn’t have high hopes as things kicked off in the top flight under Mick McCarthy - but our worst fears came to fruition.
We spent 3 weeks outside of the relegation zone all season - the first was after a 3-1 at home to Charlton Athletic on the opening day by virtue of three other sides having a worse opening day, and the other was two weeks that came during an international break in October. To add insult to injury, our seven recognised forwards scored 12 goals in a combined 150 appearances. Other than that, that season was a good laugh.
To add to our woes, the club was in a financial mess and chairman Bob Murray was actively pursuing someone to take over the ownership of the club. So how do you begin to rescue a football club and bounce back from a season like that? Well a Knight in shining armour comes in handy and ours was, of course, former striker Niall Quinn.
Not only did he put together the Drumaville consortium to take the club over and take on the chairman’s role himself, but when the new owners were struggling to install a new manager, he stepped in to take it on as Sunderland began the new campaign in the Coca-Cola Championship.
Unfortunately, his time as manager got off to a bad start even before a ball was kicked when player after player entered his office stating they wanted to leave the club. Then, when the football started, it got worse - four straight defeats left us rock bottom of the table, only to be followed by being dumped out of the League Cup by Bury, who were at the time bottom of the entire Football League.
In walks Roy Keane as manager, and although he watches the West Bromwich Albion game from the stands with Quinn on the touchline, we win three on the bounce and our season is kickstarted.
A frantic transfer window follows with the likes of Liam Miller, Ross Wallace, Stanislav Varga, Dwight Yorke, Graham Kavanagh and David Connolly, but it takes time. We only win 3 of the next 10 and remain down in 19th position after a draw at home to Southampton in mid-November.
By the time the January transfer window opened we’d managed to climb to 10th, and further acquisitions followed with the likes of Jonny Evans, Danny Simpson, Tobias Hysen, Carlos Edwards and Anthony Stokes - and we were off.
From our victory at the Walker’s Stadium on New Year’s Day until our penultimate game at home to Burnley where we clinched promotion we won 14 of our 19 fixtures and lost only once.
Roy Keane had taken a club on it’s knees by the scruff of the neck and dragged it back to the Premier League, with a little help of a few quid in the transfer market of course, but so much was built upon having the character to see it through.
As we prepared to take on already relegated Luton Town at Kenilworth Road on the final day of the season, we trailed Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City by a point and Keane wasn’t taking the foot off the peddle yet as he explained when leaving Danny Simpson out of the team for the game...
The players, no doubt, had been celebrating promotion after Derby had lost, and Danny turned up late for one of the training sessions. He pleaded with me to let him play; he was very emotional. But I wouldn’t let him play. The point - the message to the players was ‘There’s no relaxing. I want to beat Luton’. The season wasn’t over.
The players were listening, it was party time in Bedfordshire in the stands but it was business as usual on the pitch as we were ruthless. Two goals up within the opening 10 minutes through Anthony Stokes and an unstoppable 25-yard strike from Daryl Murphy, meant we were coasting,
As Murphy got a second early in the second half to make 3-0 and Ross Wallace made it four, the day got even better as news filtered through that Birmingham were trailing to Preston. By the final whistle, David Connolly had made it 5-0 and it was confirmed that Sunderland were champions and returning to the Premier League.
The 14 years since haven’t quite gone to plan, which makes the memories stand out all the more.
Sunderland: Fulop, Wright, Nosworthy, Collins, Edwards (Wallace), Yorke, Leadbitter, Whitehead (Connolly), Murphy (John), Stokes Substitutes not used: Varga, Miller
Luton Town: Brill, Keane, Emanuel, Coyne, Barnett, Heikkinen, O’Leary (Langley), Spring, Idrizaj, Andrew, Bell (Brkovic) Substitutes not used: Perrett, Talbot, Boyd