On my “march with Kyril’s army” walk between Ushaw Moor and Esh Winning I had got to thinking about some of our best forwards, not just the ones I have seen play, but the forwards I wish I had seen but have only heard and read about. This is the final part of this series, and we’re now into more recent times.
I should recap what I mean by “our best forwards”. I love a striker that scores all kinds of goals, “squaffy” rebounds off the toosh, as well as 35yard screamers. I delight in watching a “deadly duo” too! I like a striker who creates as well as scores. I am not asking for much in my striker’s am I?
Quinn & Phillips
Our arrival at the Stadium of Light for season 1997/98 saw the pairing of Niall Quin with the newly acquired Kevin Phillips from Watford. Phillips signing had largely gone under the radar, Peter Reid had apparently been after the much better known Eire striker David Connolly, and returned with the cut price (£325,000) Phillips. Those of us in the almost 39,000 crowd who rolled into the Stadium of Light for our opening home game against Man City could have had no idea what was to come.
Our three top scorers for the season, Lee Clark (13), Niall Quinn (17) and Kevin Phillips (35) scored the goals in a thrilling 3-1 victory, it did not take the Roker faithful long to realise that something special was happening on the pitch. Reid had carefully assembled a squad that were to provide some of the most thrilling football many of us had ever seen from our team.
At the spearhead the twin strike force of Quinn and Phillips were a dream to behold and enjoy. This duo were formidable, but backed up by a very good midfield of Ball, Rae, Clark, with Nicky Summerbee and Allan Magic Johnston providing ammunition from the wings along with full backs Mickey Gray and Lee Makin.
Craddock and Williams in the centre of defence were just as key along with the eccentric Lionel Perez in goal. Danny Dichio who had been bought in the close season for £750,000 presumably to take over from the ageing Quinn also played a canny role from the bench.
Quinn and Phillips seemed to have each other’s radar and the veteran Irishman certainly enjoyed a new lease of life as the duo proceeded to terrorise defences the length of the country. Our promotion season of 1998/99 saw Quinn net 21 and Phillips 25 (despite missing 20 league games through injury).
Our first season back in the Premiership at the SOL in 1999/20 saw Phillips’s net 30 goals to win the golden boot, and Quinn net 15 as we finished seventh to herald a new and exciting period in our top flight history. A second successive seventh placed finish the following season 2000/21 saw Phillips’s net 18 in all competitions and Quinn eight.
Season 2001/02 proved difficult for the duo, although the squad looked full of quality, the loss of Don Hutchison who had weighed in with eight goals the previous season and who could have formed a formidable midfield with Claudio Reyna and Gavin McCann appeared to impact. Quinn scored six and Phillips 13 in a season that saw us just avoid relegation. The partnership was broken up during 2002/03 as Quinn’s body was telling him time to go gracefully.
This season was a dreadful one for Sunderland supporters as all the promise of our two seventh place finishes dissipated. Reid was sacked after seven and a half years at the helm. His successors Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill lasted just 27 league games before Mick McCarthy arrived, presumably to guide us back up following our record-breaking relegation. Phillips scored 9 goals and left at the end of the season.
Despite the dreadful 2002/03 season, the Quinn / Phillips duo will be a great memory for all who saw them play together. Kevin Phillips scored an incredible 60 goals in 78 appearances and Niall Quinn 42 goals in 88 appearances to become the most lethal modern day pairing in Sunderland’s history.
Bent’s departure from Sunderland in 2011 dominates the headlines of his time with us. I loved though watching this lad play, he had goals and all kind of goals in his locker (just do not let him take a penalty).
Bent arrived for £16.5 million as Steve Bruce’s marquee signing from Spurs in 2009/10. Frazier Campbell from Man Utd, Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole had also arrived for good money along with Bolo Zenden (who was to score one of the best goals I have ever seen) to give the squad a very handy look as we headed into the season.
Bent scored 25 goals that season, playing alongside the absolute handful that was Kenwyne Jones, and backed up by the hard-working Campbell. His form throughout that season was sensational and it was surely a mistake not to include him in England’s world cup squad. He followed up his first season with 11 goals in 23 appearances before his acrimonious departure to Aston Villa in January 2011.
The signing of Asamoah Gyan at the start of this season had me hugely anticipating our campaign, we could not have guessed at what was to come. Bent is alleged to have put a transfer request into the club in pursuit of more money, and he was vilified by supporters as their disappointment spilled over at the news of his departure.
Bent himself tells a different story to the one popularly portrayed. He recognises his form at Sunderland as probably the best of his career, was very happy living in the area and has said on many occasions that we the supporters were the best he had played in front of, making him feel he could “walk on water”.
Bent’s ability to play a one-two with a beach ball cannot be understated, along with his many other goal scoring attributes. Bent scored 36 goals in his 18 months stay with us and makes my top 10 Sunderland strikers with ease.
As transfer business goes, swapping the unfortunate Jozy Altidore for Defoe ranks as one of the best deals ever. Defoe arrived in January 2015, he scored 4 goals to help Dick Advocaat’s team avoid relegation. Apart from goals, I had not appreciated until I witnessed it what a worker he was for the team. Advocaat returned the following season but was not happy at the lack of investment in the team and resigned in February 2016.
Sam Allardyce took over and led the club to safety. It had been a difficult season with Sunderland either in or flirting with the relegation positions right up until the last two games of the season. Despite this Defoe scored 18 goals in all competitions and was endearing himself to the fans with his wholehearted displays and work off the pitch.
Allardyce’s departure to the England job in the summer of 2016 and the appointment of David Moyes did not change our fortune and we were relegated at the end of a very bad season. Despite this Defoe scored 15 goals in a badly misfiring team. He signed for one of his previous clubs, Bournemouth, to end his association with us at the end of 2016/17.
Defoe made 87 appearances for us scoring 34 goals in what could be described as struggling premiership teams. Such a natural goalscorer and team-player, he also makes my top ten Sunderland strikers with ease.