Tore Andre Flo vs Manchester United (2002)
Let's start by going back to summer 2002. The South Korea/Japan World Cup wasn’t long finished, Britney Spears was topping the charts and Niall Quinn was coming to the end of his Sunderland career.
Peter Reid was searching for his target-man replacement to partner the legendary Kevin Phillips and along came Tore Andre Flo. The Norwegian arrived for a club-record fee from Rangers and faced the mighty Manchester United on his debut.
1-0 down to a Ryan Giggs goal, a sell-out 47,000 strong Stadium of Light crowd saw Flo smash in an equaliser to send the crowd into delirium. Future Sunderland manager Roy Keane (who’d controversially quit the World Cup after a dispute over training facilities) saw red after a clash with Ireland teammate McAteer, and we took a slightly fortunate point.
It turned out to be one of only 19 points we got in the entire season. Flo never gelled with Phillips in the same way that Quinn did and although his height was similar to the Irishman Quinn, his style of play definitely wasn’t. Flo got just four goals in the entire season as we were relegated. He moved onto Siena after just one season.
Paul McShane vs Tottenham Hotspur (2007)
Another defensive masterclass at home on the opening day came from Paul McShane.
2007 was an exciting time for the club. Freshly back in the Premier League and looking to establishing ourselves for the first time since the Peter Reid days.
Manager Roy Keane had been coaxing squad players from old club Man United and McShane arrived with a decent reputation. A fringe player at United he was capped by Ireland and was excellent in the opening day victory over Spurs. A late Michael Chopra sealed the three points and was a stand-out moment in SOL history.
McShane played a vital part in keeping a clean sheet. He battled, headed and kicked anything that moved. Man and ball. Keeping quiet the likes of top Premier League strikers such as Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov and future Sunderland strikers Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent from the bench.
Unfortunately, McShane wasn’t consistently a stand-out performer that season and his Sunderland career never really took off before he left for Hull City two seasons later.
Jan Kirchhoff vs Tottenham Hotspur (2016)
In 2016, the Brexit vote was nearly upon us and Sam Allardyce was doing his best to make sure Sunderland survived our annual relegation battle and he protected his precious no-relegation record.
In the winter window ‘Big Sam’ brought in the K-K-K trilogy of players. Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff.
The last of the three Kirchoff arrived from Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and with a good reputation. However, he had an absolute nightmare of a debut away to Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Coming on as a sub in the 57th minute, Kirchhoff scored an own-goal by deflecting a Christian Eriksen shot into his own net, concede a penalty thanks to a poorly timed tackle on Danny Rose and lose possession repeatedly as we went down with a whimper 4-1.
Luckily for Kirchhoff, things improved markedly from that point onwards. He played fantastically as a deep midfielder in the run-in, and his ability to read the game and intercept trouble, combined with his calm, crisp passing, helped us lose only one of our final 11 matches and successfully avoid the drop.
Kirchhoff was troubled by injury in his second season and was released after we went down in 2017.
Milton Nunez vs Wimbledon (2000)
From the superb to the downright bizarre. Sit down, relax and enjoy reliving the strange, comical and now infamous Milton Nunez story.
The Honduras international arrived in spring-2000 with a reputation as a powerhouse striker, highly-rated in South America and with a point to prove in Europe. The result was quite different...
Nunez’s first (and only) league appearance was against Wimbledon from the bench. Those who were there will never forget it...
To say Nunez was short was an understatement. Laughs came from the crowd as a seemingly toddler-height player in a massive shirt and oversized shorts ran onto the pitch. Even more howls from the crowd when he jumped and ran, battling his way against physical defenders. A quick search reveals he is five foot four but even that would seem generous. Maybe if he was stood on a Yellow Pages.
After just 15 minutes he was done. He made cup appearances but that was it in the Premier League. He was nicknamed Mike Tyson but one suspects Gary Coleman would have been more accurate.
So what had gone on? Wrong player? Mistaken identity? Something more underhand? Nunez himself has had various thoughts on the matter but, regardless, now has cult-like status among Sunderland fans.
Arnau Riera - full debut vs Bury (2006)
From the bizarre to the downright terrible. Arnau Riera...remember him....no? Only me?
Well, Riera was spoken about as a future great in some quarters when he signed on a free transfer for Niall Quinn’s Sunderland in the summer of 2006. The Spaniard was a Barcelona B captain and had actually captained the great Lionel Messi in the 2004/05 season for the Blaugranes second-string side.
After a promising sub appearance during a horrible defeat at Southend the previous weekend, Riera made his much-anticipated full debut against Bury at Gigg Lane in the Carling Cup. We were in the midst of a horrendous start – losing our first four games with Quinn, for all his strengths, clearly out of his depth as gaffer.
Riera lasted all of 180 seconds.
From the whistle and barely having a touch, Riera caught a Bury player with what’s described as a ‘flailing arm’ and was shown the red, perhaps harshly, by referee Mike Jones.
That was that for Riera and Sunderland – he never played for the club again. A combination of fitness issues, new signings and maybe just not being quite good enough saw him shipped out on loan several times before finally leaving the club in 2009.
Arnau Riera was the captain of Lionel Messi..... football eh, bloody hell!