At the beginning of the 2002-03 season, we almost had an embarrassment of riches in between the sticks.
Thomas Sorensen had firmly established himself as our number one – and looked set to keep the shirt for a good while yet.
Austrian keeper Jurgen Macho had been Sorensen’s backup for a couple of seasons after arriving from First Vienna in the summer of 2000. Having been thrown into action at half time of the 2000-01 season opener, he’d very much played the role of Sorensen’s understudy – but Reid hadn’t been altogether convinced, and added former Everton keeper Thomas Myhre to the ranks to bolster his side’s goalkeeping department.
Myhre, an excellent goalkeeper, was given his debut in Reid’s penultimate game in charge – a convincing 7-0 win at Cambridge, while he followed that up in Reid’s last game in charge with a 73-minute appearance, after replacing the injured Sorensen. By the time Myhre got on the field we were 2-0 down, and in the days that followed Bob Murray made the decision to end Reidy’s seven years at the club. Right decision? Maybe. Right time? Definitely not.
With Reid gone and Sorensen out for the foreseeable, we were left with a break of two weeks to get used to what the future could holer; international fixtures providing a welcome relief from the news that Murray had let himself be talked into appointing Howard Wilkinson as Reid’s successor.
However, that round of international fixtures only made things worse – Norway’s number one Mhyre, looking forward to establishing himself in Sorensen’s absence – suffered a thigh injury in a game against Romania – meaning third-choice Macho was called in from the cold to start Wilko’s first game in charge.
Myhre was back in the team the following week at Bolton, but had to hobble off before the half-hour mark and Macho was helpless to prevent Bolton’s equaliser from our star European signing, Phil Babb.
A 1-1 draw at Charlton and a 2-0 home win over Spurs suggested things were on the up – Sergeant Wilko’s Red and White Army was sung with belief. Maybe we’d been wrong!
And, when Macho pulled out the game of his life at Anfield – somehow keeping a rampant Liverpool side at bay and earning his team a point – Wilko has only too happy to heap praise on... himself.
Twenty years ago today, Wilko told anyone who’d listen:
If you want a barometer of how things have changed here it’s the keeper. Five weeks ago he was nowhere, I doubt he could even catch a beach ball.
On the same day, we took advantage of the emergency loan system to provide Macho with some backup. Young Michael Ingham had been on the bench when Macho was in the starting lineup, but Wilkinson evidently wasn’t remotely convinced.
In something of a surprise move, Estonian keeper Mart Poom arrived on a short-term loan from Derby, who’d been relegated the season before.
The move was expected to be turned into a permanent deal in January – another surprise, given Mhyre and Sorensen were expected to be fit at the turn of the year – but Poom said:
Sunderland are a massive club and I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing for them.
I’ve played at the Stadium of Light and I think it’s fantastic, however the last memory I have is not such a good one, as it was the game that Derby were relegated.
As a professional I want to play at the highest level possible so I’m looking forward to this.
As it turned out, while Poom’s move was made permanent, he had to wait until April to be handed his debut – Mick McCarthy, overseeing the last rites after Wilkinson’s regime had quickly turned into a disaster, selecting the Estonian in a 2-0 defeat to Steve Bruce’s Birmingham.
At the start of the season, it looked like keeper was our strongest position, but it turned into our weakest – Sorensen came back into the team in the second half of the season, playing 21 league games in total, but looked out of sorts. Macho started 12 league games, Poom four and Myhre just one – in a particularly injury-plagued season for the Norwegian, he made the matchday squad just five times - his injury at Bolton was the last we saw of him that campaign.
Still, on this day 20 years ago, Wilko was in a buoyant mood.
It’s five games unbeaten now and that’s probably a good a run as this club has had in 18 months. It’s something that we can build on and we have to be happy with how things are going.