Peter Reid swept through the place like a breath of fresh air when he entered Roker Park in March 1995, taking over from Mick Buxton as we appeared to be free falling into the third tier for only the second time in our history.
The club was stale, and as Reid was our first external managerial appointment for almost eight years, he gave the club an immediate boost in the seven games he had in charge at the end of the 1994-95 season. Vital victories over Sheffield United, Derby County and fellow strugglers Swindon Town were enough to see us survive.
The initial appointment had Reid signed up until the end of the season. As John Fickling explained to us in the Roker Rapport podcast here, it was difficult to predict the short term future and both parties agreed that it would be discussed further once the season had finished.
As it was clear the impact the ex-England international had not only on the squad but the fans, a two-year contract was put on the table which Peter Reid signed on the dotted line and he was off.
With Reid entering the arena, Sunderland were suddenly linked with all sorts of players that would have previously seemed out of reach in the summer of 1995. Chris Waddle was one that was heavily linked throughout the summer and a lot of players with previous links to the manager seemed to have their names associated with moves to Roker Park.
One deal that Reid did complete quickly was the capture of not only the man who would be his assistant manager but would also run the middle of the park on the pitch, when Paul Bracewell joined the club on a free transfer from Newcastle United three years after leaving Roker.
More deals were expected but only John Mullin from Burnley was confirmed, although a deal for goalkeeper Brad Friedel was expected to go through during the summer but fell through due to issues with the American’s work permit.
After the previous season of escaping the trap door late on, there was cautious optimism since Reid had clearly improved the level at which the current players were playing at the end of the season, but wasn’t able to strengthen the squad.
Pre-season had been successful in terms of results but low-key in regards to the opposition, with no big hitters facing the Lads in the lead up to the opening day of the season. Most pundits had us down for a mid-table finish with an outside chance of making the play-offs but I bizarrely remember Neil Warnock predicting we’d win the title in my Shoot! or Match magazine and thinking he’d lost it.
To open the campaign, Peter Reid’s side were scheduled to face Mark McGhee’s Leicester City at Roker Park who had been relegated from the Premier League the previous season after one season in the top flight. Just over 18,000 packed into Roker Park, which was a few thousand up on the average of the previous season.
Our line-up looked much as it had the previous season, with only Bracewell making a debut of sorts, but in reality, it was his third debut for the club. But, only 9 minutes into the new Endsleigh League Division One season, optimism was beginning to fade when Steve Corica put the Foxes ahead.
Ex-Sunderland player Jamie Lawrence had a shot from the edge of the area that was charged down by Bracewell on the edge of the box that fell to Corica who impressively half-volleyed into the corner of the net past Chamberlain in front of the onlooking Fulwell End.
There was something about this Sunderland that looked different, however. We were passing it across the defence and trying to pass the ball out, in something that resembled a plan - which itself was not something we had seen at Roker Park for a few years leading up to the season in question.
On the half hour, Steve Agnew took advantage of a poor punch from Kevin Poole in the Leicester goal to finish nicely from the edge of the area, and having signed from the East Midlands club the season before, took full advantage of celebrating in front of the away fans based behind the goal in the Roker End.
With about 20 minutes remaining of the game, Julian Joachim’s pace started to become a factor as he broke free on the right-hand side and managed to fin e-Manchester United striker Mark Robins in the area who neatly received the ball, turned and struck a left-foot shot off all in one movement into the net to Alec Chamberlain’s right.
Sunderland didn’t have enough to get back into the game that day but as we slowly grew into the season after winning one of the first five, we eventually gathered momentum that was based on organisation and a solid defence.
We only conceded ten goals at Roker Park in the league all season and went on to claim the title with virtually the same squad that had struggled the season before.
Twelve months later, Sunderland once again opened the season at Roker Park against Leicester City, although this time both as Premier League clubs as McGhee’s side joined ourselves and Derby County in the top flight via the play-offs.
Sunderland: Chamberlain, Kubicki, Ball, Ord, Scott, Michael Gray, Bracewell, Agnew (Armstrong), Smith, Phil Gray, Angell (Russell) Substitute not used: Howey
Leicester City: Poole, Grayson, Walsh, Willis (Hill), Whitelow, Taylor, Parker, Corica, Lawrence (Philpott), Joachim, Robins (Roberts)