Wearside was on the crest of a wave that showed little sign of slowing down. The Roy Keane-inspired surge to the top of the Championship table had been hugely impressive – talk of magic carpets had been lapped up, and as the lads took on Juventus in our final pre-season friendly optimism was the highest it had been since the days of Peter Reid.
The game was played to mark the tenth anniversary of the Stadium of Light’s opening, and followed a decent pre-season – the only blot on the copybook was a 1-0 defeat to Scunthorpe while a 4-0 win over Galway had been the highlight.
Keane – never one to shy away from splashing the cash – had attempted to strengthen the squad over the summer. Having lost Danny Simpson and, crucially, Jonny Evans from the promotion-winning team, he signed Reading’s Greg Halford and Paul McShane of West Brom as direct replacements. Russell Anderson also arrived from Aberdeen, and Dickson Etuhu landed from Norwich.
While the quartet looked to be decent ‘squad fillers’ it was two other signings that had generated the most interest at this point.
Kieran Richardson had been signed for good money and looked a genuine statement of intent. The 22-year-old had broken into the Manchester United first team, had enjoyed a successful loan spell at West Brom and had already been capped eight times by England – for Sunderland to attract a player of that calibre spoke volumes about the level of ambition.
The other major signing of the summer up to this point (Craig Gordon arrived during the following midweek) was the controversial Michael Chopra. The former Newcastle striker had been turned to after David Nugent preferred Harry Redknapp’s dulcet tones, and had arrived for £5m from Cardiff, for whom he’d scored 22 in 42 games.
Chopra’s arrival brought a mixed reaction from Sunderland supporters. On one hand, he was a proven championship goalscorer and exactly the type of player we needed. On the other, he was the worst kind of gobby, arrogant mag.
Despite a few highs – one which was to come a week later – we all know how that one turned out.
A crowd of over 25,000 turned out to watch the new signings in action against a Juventus side under the management of Claudio Ranieri. The ‘Old Lady’ had spent a season in Serie B after being demoted due to match-fixing. They’d kept hold of their big names, however; Buffon, Nedved, Trezeguet and Del Piero among them, and also featured a 22-year-old Chiellini at the back. The following summer Chiellini almost signed for Sunderland – another ‘what if’ moment in the club’s history.
Sunderland started the game brightly – McShane’s header drew a superb save from Buffon but from the resultant corner, Murphy managed to tap in from close range after the keeper had saved another McShane header to give the home side the lead.
On a bright day at the Stadium, both sides were intent on attack; Etuhu almost extended the home team’s lead with a header while Fulop saved somewhat fortuitously from Iaquinta.
Sub keeper Ward saved well from fellow sub Del Piero at half time, while Stern John should have put the game beyond doubt, but seemed to miss the ball from a Miller cross.
With only two minutes left on the clock, however, Juve got their leveller – Del Piero setting up Molinaro, who shot past Ward from the edge of the box.
There was almost an instant reply from the home team – Anthony Stokes struck the bottom of the post from 25 yards out – but the scores remained level and Sunderland headed into the new season full of confidence to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.
Sunderland: Fulop (Ward 46), Halford (Kay 85), Wallace (Collins 69), Etuhu (Stokes 60), Nosworthy, McShane (Anderson 75), Miller, Whitehead (Yorke 60), Murphy (John 69), Chopra (Connolly 60), Richardson.
Juventus: Buffon (Belardi 46), Zebina (Birindelli 46), Chiellini (Criscito 73), Andrade, Grygera (46), Salihamidzic (Del Piero 46), Mendes (Nocerino 46), Almiron (Zanetti 69), Nedved, Iaquinta (Palladino 74), Trezeguet.
Goals: Murphy (7), Molinaro (88).