Promoted alongside each other into what was then called the FA Carling Premiership during 1995-96, and both due to move into state of the art new stadiums in time for 1997-98, Sunderland and Derby County were big clubs with a lot of things in common.
The sides then met at the Baseball Ground early on during the 1996-97 campaign for what proved to be a tight home win probably best remembered on Wearside for Peter Reid’s decision to drop Dariusz Kubicki from the starting line-up. It was at that point that things changed somewhat and come Sunderland’s next visit to the Rams three years later, the two clubs were at different stages.
Although they gave a good account of themselves in their first Premiership sortie, which included a pulsating Boxing Day win in the return match at Roker, the Lads finished the 1996-97 season with a heartbreaking final day relegation.
Derby, meanwhile, were able to consolidate, and by 1999-00 were a steady top half of the table side. Sunderland had to instead undergo a rebirth and following a record-breaking promotion returned to the top-flight looking to make more of an impression.
The sides were again paired up early in the season, but this time there were few arguments when Peter Reid named his team. He had complimented his all-conquering promotions winners with a couple of shrewd additions and the matchday squad had a real sense of quality.
Sunderland XI: Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Ball, McCann, Schwarz; Quinn, Phillips. Subs: Marriott, Williams, Rae, Oster, Dichio.
This was Sunderland’s first visit to the Pride Park Stadium, and yet they soon looked at home, with Gavin McCann reacting quickly to sweep the ball home and give them the lead 24 minutes in.
Sunderland were in full control, and they extended their lead shortly before the interval when Stefan Schwarz and Michael Gray combined well on the left to pick out an unmarked Kevin Phillips.
Both goals were scored right in front of a packed away end, and Sunderland supporters were on their feet again shortly into the second half, with Gray using his right foot this time to put the ball into the box and Phillips showing great technique to volley it in.
Another goal soon followed when Gray made it a hattrick of assists; his pumped diagonal ball tempting home goalkeeper Russell Hoult to come hurtling off his line and allowing Niall Quinn to nod into an empty net.
With Sunderland now 4-0 up, the game was over as a contest before the hour mark. Reid used the opportunity to make some changes and with five minutes left substitute Alex Rae teed up Phillips for another clinical finish and another match ball.
After totally dominating an established top-flight side it was clear to all that Sunderland were not just looking to make up the numbers now they were back in the big time.
After beating Leicester City in their previous league match victory against the Rams, for whom Rory Delap played the full 90, was an important step as it marked the first time in 15 years that the Lads had secured back to back top-flight wins.
Kevin Phillips and co. were starting to take the Premiership by storm, and Derby were not the only side to feel the force during the campaign.
To put the performance and scoreline into context this was the first time since winning 5-2 at Manchester City in 1952 that Sunderland had scored five goals in an away top tier fixture, and their biggest top-flight win on the road since Blackpool were also beaten 5-0 back in 1947.
Even more remarkably, Sunderland then repeated the trick again three days later when they made 10 changes to the starting team and still stuffed Walsall in the Worthington Cup.
There have been several other notable moments since 1999, such as Mart Poom’s superb header, Roy Keane’s first game in charge and an unexpected win there under Chris Coleman, but Sunderland’s first-ever trip to Pride Park Stadium still takes some beating.