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On This Day (1 Nov 2007): Defensive nightmares cause Keane concern – was Leadbitter the answer?

Injuries and suspensions were forcing Keane into yet another defensive reshuffle.

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This season we’ve become all too familiar with a lack of depth in a crucial area of the pitch. In 2022, we’ve struggled for strikers – 15 years ago, it was defenders that were proving to be the problem.

After gaining promotion the season before, we’d reinforced our squad with the £9m signing of Craig Gordon, and added to our defence in the shape of right back Greg Halford, signed from Reading, and Aberdeen’s long-serving skipper, centre back Russel Anderson.

The highly-rated Paul McShane had been signed from West Brom, Ian Harte had arrived on a free after spending three years in Spain, while Danny Higginbotham arrived as the transfer window shut.

Of course, we started the season without the brilliant Jonny Evans – he’d played a massive role in getting us promoted, but had been kept at Old Trafford for the new season by Sir Alex. Thankfully, he’d return later.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Sunderland v Hull City - Stadium of Light
Evans had been absolutely brilliant on loan and was a major reason why we went up
Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Evans and Nosworthy were the rocks on which our promotion had been built, and in truth replacing Evans with McShane was a serious downgrade – as was replacing Evans’ fellow loanee, Danny Simpson, with the hapless Halford.

The right back had been a target of Keane’s in January, but had decided to join Premier League Reading from Colchester, rather than Sunderland, who at the time were mid-table in the championship.

Six months later, however, Reading had seen enough and probably couldn’t believe their luck when Keane offered them actual real-life money for Halford.

The ‘right back’ had a torrid time on Wearside, and had been sent off in a 3-0 league cup defeat at Luton, as well as seeing red in Sunderland’s most recent game, a 1-1 draw at home to Fulham, in which Kenwyne Jones had rescued a late point for the lads.

Carling Cup - Luton Town v Sunderland
Halford trudges off at Luton
Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images

With Halford and McShane (a red card away at Arsenal) suspended, and Anderson injured, Keane needed to shore up his defence ahead of the weekend’s trip to face Manchester City. Despite starting the season with a clean sheet, we’d conceded 20 in the next 10 games, fielding six different defensive lineups in 11 games, and Gordon was understandably concerned.

We haven’t got an awful lot of defenders available and it’s an obvious problem.

Russell Anderson is still recovering following an operation, he’s desperate to come back.

Paul McShane is still suspended, Greg will be banned and there have been regular changes.

It’s not ideal, but it’s the way things tend to work out in the Premier League. You need a good squad and you have to have players who can come in and do a job.

It’s part and parcel of being in this league and we will have to deal with it and improve on it.

Ahead of facing Sven Goran Eriksson’s Man City, Keane was pondering a few options. Would he move Nyron to right back? Bring Danny Collins in to centre back? Maybe even deploy Grant Leadbitter or another summer recruit, Dickson Etuhu there?

The expectation was that 18-year-old Michael Kay would get the nod at right back but as it went, we were – unfortunately – spared the pleasure of seeing Grant playing centre back, or Kay getting a start, as Keane gave a debut to Ian Harte at left back, and shuffled Nyron over to his comedy position of right back.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Sunderland - City of Manchester Stadium Photo by Tony Marshall - PA Images via Getty Images

Against City’s team of burgeoning stars, it mattered little – we went down 1-0 to a brilliant Stephen Ireland goal, and as it turned out, our shortcomings that particular night lay more at the other end of the field, with Kenwyne, Anthony Stokes and Daryl Murphy failing to trouble Joe Hart much at all.

It left the lads with only three away Premier League wins in our previous 51 away games. Being in the top flight wasn’t always all it was cracked up to be.

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