From the age of 10, Lynden Gooch had been travelling from his home in Santa Cruz, California, to train with Sunderland’s academy – joining the youth development set up permanently in 2012, aged 16.
After enjoying a brief loan spell at Gateshead in the early stages of 2015, 19-year-old Gooch was handed a place on the bench as Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland took on Exeter City (who featured in their line-up current Sunderland assistant manager Jamie McAllister) in the Capital One Cup on this day six years ago.
Advocaat had re-taken over at Sunderland during the summer, and it was proving a hard task for the veteran Dutch manager. After keeping the club up by the skin of its teeth the previous season, he’d turned down a permanent contract initially, only for some flowers to talk him round.
In hindsight, it was a huge mistake.
The season had started with a heavy defeat to Leicester (no real disgrace in hindsight as they went on to win the league this season, but at the time it seemed like a poor loss), but of more concern was a 3-1 home defeat to newly-promoted Norwich.
The team looked devoid of... anything remotely positive. We were wide open at the back, and lacked any sort of organisation or cohesion.
A home draw against Swansea had simply added to the frustration – one point when a minimum of seven was being targeted, and concern was growing.
The game against Exeter was an opportunity to get a bit of confidence amongst the squad – and that was reflected in Advocaat’s line up.
Sunderland: Pantilimon, Matthews, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Coates, O’Shea, Larsson, M’Vila, Graham, Rodwell, Defoe. Subs Stryjek, J. Robson, Brown, Watmore, Giaccherini, Gooch, Fletcher
As far as footballing entertainment goes, the game was a treat for the 14,360 in attendance.
Jack Rodwell (yes really) and Jermain Defoe put Sunderland two up early on – Rodwell driving home after a Danny Graham shot had been blocked, and Defoe slamming the ball home from close range after lifting the ball over the keeper.
It looked like it was all going to be plain sailing, but of course, that’s rarely the case for Sunderland.
Only three minutes after Defoe’s goal. new signing Adam Matthews was caught out by a long ball into the box and Manny Oyeleke pulled one back, while David Wheeler levelled on the half-hour, heading home after a nice cross in from the left.
A nice ball through from Cattermole put Defoe into space in the box; twisting and turning, the striker drove the ball low into the net to regain the advantage for the home team only minutes before half-time.
As the half-time pie/pint/piss routine leapt into action in the stands, however, Exeter equalised – Tom McCready firing in from 10 yards after poor defending on our right-hand side gave Exeter space to cross.
The opening stages of the second half was a more sedate affair, and livened up after the introduction of Lynden Gooch just shy of the hour mark.
Moments later, Rodwell headed in from a corner, before Duncan Watmore added a comedic fifth. Running onto a long ball from O’Shea, Watmore managed to get to the ball in front of the keeper – who seemed unaware that he was actually allowed out of the box – and tapped into an empty net.
There was still time left for Defoe to complete his hattrick, guiding the ball home from Larsson’s right-wing cross; in truth, the keeper should have done a lot better, but who’s complaining?
6-3, and the game set a Sunderland record for the highest total goals in a League Cup tie.
Gooch had made a positive impression in his 30-plus minutes of action, but that was his solitary appearance of the season. Advocaat departed, Big Sam came in, and Gooch headed off to Doncaster for a ten-game loan spell that was curtailed by injury.
His next slice of first-team action came the following season, with David Moyes starting Gooch in the season opener against Man City. Gooch earned plenty of plaudits for his performance on the left of midfield (in what was Guardiola’s first game in charge of Manchester City) and kept his place in the starting lineup for the following three games. He added a further seven sub appearances as the club sunk under the disastrous management of Moyes.
The following season – as Sunderland sunk again – saw Gooch make 12 starts and 12 sub appearances, notching his first goal for the club in a cup tie at Carlisle. A few weeks later he scored his first league goal for the club from the penalty spot in a home fixture against Cardiff.
It was the following season that Gooch really nailed down a place in the Sunderland team, and it started in the best possible way with his last-minute winner against Charlton, and has been a regular ever since.
Gooch is one of those players who’s often taken for granted because he’s now part of the furniture, and he’s a player I really admire.
He’s got a brilliant attitude on the field, gives every game his all. He’s a constant threat going forward and is a persistent danger to the opposition.
When he’s good he’s very good, and while I’m sure we’d all love to see a bit more consistency from him in terms of end product, he’s a player we should treasure.
Loyal, committed and talented. That’s what we want, isn’t it?!