After two seventh-placed finishes in the preceding campaigns, the 2001-02 season was something of a disappointment, finishing 17th, four points off relegation. The campaign had gone down to the last game of the season, after a run of one win in eight (Streaky Pete, anyone), and a 1-1 final day draw with demoted Derby – combined with results elsewhere – meant we were safe for another season at least.
It was period of change at the Stadium of Light. The season had started well enough – two wins and a draw from the opening four – but the sale of Don Hutchison had set alarm bells ringing. Accusations of greed from one corner and broken promises from the other suggested disharmony.
The Quinn/Phillips partnership that had taken the Premier League by storm was fading quickly – Quinny had still managed 24 league starts (in addition to 14 from the bench, making him an ever-present that season) and had notched a six. Phillips, who only missed one game in the league, managed 11 goals including one, opening-day, penalty.
Reidy had tried to solve the goalscoring issues by signing Lillian Laslandes, then Patrick Mbomba; neither of which impressed too much.
October arrival Jason McAteer didn’t look capable of truly replacing Hutchison, however, the December addition of Claudio Reyna looked more promising.
Adding a touch of class in the centre of midfield, Reyna showed signs of being able to replace Hutchison’s goal contribution from midfield, scoring three goals in 17; one, the winner on his debut versus Everton, the other two coming in spectacular style at home to Leicester – the 2-1 victory was that ‘one win in eight’.
As the summer transfer market began to stir, Reid was laying plans for a new look Sunderland team. It was clear it needed a major freshen up – not a change here or there.
A high-class partner for Phillips was top of the list, while some genuine top flight experience all over the park was needed if Sunderland were to avoid another season struggling at the bottom of the table.
On this day 19 years ago, The Northern Echo reported Reidy had four Premier League players in his sights to complement his first signing of the summer – Phil Babb.
The mood of the fan base hadn’t been helped by the tone-deaf announcement of Babb’s arrival a week or so earlier. Heralded as ‘major news coming’, ‘star signing from Portuguese club imminent’, the arrival of Babb left everyone collectively asking ‘are you f****ing kidding?’ This wasn’t necessarily a reflection of Babb’s ability, but the club’s lack of communication nous.
Still, Reid ploughed on, and was linked with three players from Leeds and one from north of the Tyne. The funds were there, too.
Club Secretary Mark Blackbourne said:
Peter loves the football club and he is determined to have a better season than the last one.
We recognise that it wasn’t much fun for the fans and we know we have to provide them with a better footballing experience.
From Elland Road, he was eyeing up Robbie Keane, Gary Kelly and Jason Wilcox, while from barcode territory, Steve Harper was in his sights to provide some competition to Thomas Sorensen.
Right-back had been a problem position since Reid bombed-out Chris Makin. Swiss international Bernt Haas never looked like being able to play at Premier League level in his 27 games and was dropped in favour of stalwart Darren Williams for the run-in. It was, therefore, no surprise that the 27-year-old Kelly – whose place was under threat from new arrival Danny Mills.
Kevin Kilbane had failed to impress too much in his 18 months at the club and 30-year-old Wilcox, who’d been at Elland Road for a couple of seasons, was being targeted to provide ammunition to a new strikeforce, which Reid hoped would contain Robbie Keane.
Keane was one of the country’s hottest properties and had been signed from Inter Milan the season before after a loan spell the previous season.
While Keane had made a good initial impact, the 2001-02 season had seen him drop down the pecking order at Elland Road, only managing nine goals.
It was no surprise Sunderland were eyeing up Leeds players – their free-spending had caught up with them and David O’Leary’s time was running out; in fact, he was sacked only a couple of weeks later.
Of course, as everyone will remember, we eventually had a big accepted by Leeds for Keane, but the Irishman turned the move down.
Deals for the other three didn’t materialise either, however, Reid did manage to add to the squad during a summer that saw him drenched in beer as frustration at the lack of transfer activity boiled over... Stephen Wright, Marcus Stewart and Tore Andre Flo all arrived; and Reid was soon to depart.