It is hard to believe that just over a month previous to this game, Sunderland were on cloud nine. Roy Keane had masterminded the team’s first win over Newcastle in 28 years, but just a few weeks later this match against Bolton Wanderers would be Roy’s final as Sunderland boss.
Ever since that game against Newcastle, things began to derail and become a little pear shaped - with the club losing four out of the next five. We looked ragged, rudderless, and disconnected as a team.
Externally, things were a little nervy - with fans increasingly aware that things were not all rosy in the garden. The topic of Keane getting a new contract was being spoken about constantly from the start of the season - and it was becoming a bigger issue the longer it went that nothing was signed.
Clearly things internally were not going to plan. Having taken effective control of the club, Ellis Short had bankrolled much of the spending within the club the previous summer. Within a short space of time, it was clear that he and the Irishman were at loggerheads. The pair had different outlooks on how the team should be managed - something Keane was never going to take too kindly to.
Replicating the behaviour of his old manager Brian Clough, Keane tended to not show up to the training ground until a couple of days before the game - something which our new American owner didn’t agree with. Keane designated much of the training to his assistants and hoped his presence around the place just before matchday could have a positive impact on the team.
It appeared that the relationship between the two was just not going to work - with off the field issues clearly impacting results on the pitch.
On paper the side (see below) that started against Bolton was a very decent starting eleven - one that was clearly playing below their standards. Keane had invested heavily in his team, with big names joining.
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Collins, Chimbonda, Malbranque (Tainio 62), Whitehead, Richardson (Leadbitter 46), Reid (Miller 63), Cisse, Jones.Subs Not Used: Fulop, Diouf, Murphy, Ferdinand.
One of those new signings was Anton Ferdinand - whose absence on the bench for this game was deemed a little peculiar. Ferdinand had been a regular for the side up until this point but rumours had it that Keane was unhappy that the defender did an interview with Sky the previous week as part of the build up to our match against West Ham.
This along with a completely unfit Craig Gordon returning in goal spelled trouble for the home side.
Bolton were playing very well under Gary Megson at this time - and it showed. Despite taking the lead through Djibril Cissé, the away side took command of this game with ease - increasing the negativity that was beginning to take over the Stadium of Light.
Woeful defensive errors then let Johan Elmander put away clinical goals either side of half-time, leading to a mini exodus from the stadium. Sunderland couldn’t cope with Bolton’s physicality and looked shell shocked at how much better they appeared to be.
It was Keane’s 100th game - and last as the manager expressed his disappointment post-game:
This is a test for everyone at the football club. I’m the manager of the football club and ultimately I’m responsible. That’s part of being a manager. That’s why I will take full responsibility for today. Football is great - it’s the best game in the world when things are going well and you are winning football matches. It’s when you are losing, and we’ve lost four at home [in succession], when you see what characters you’ve got.
It’s 45 minutes after the game. You have to chill out and have a cup of tea and reflect and wake up in the morning and have a look at it. You’ve always got to look where you can improve. You are on about characters and your dressing room and the staff and yourself, but you do that every day anyway. You are constantly looking at your performance, where you can do better, so I don’t think it’s a case of discussing contracts with the owners. Whatever they are feeling, we are all feeling the same. It’s a disappointment. I always said the table would take shape after eight, nine, 10 games. We are where we are - and that’s not good enough.
We always appreciate the supporters. We’re getting good numbers today and they obviously showed their frustration at the end. I think that’s the most natural thing in the world to do. They are obviously going to voice their disappointment when individuals make mistakes. I have to look at the individuals, not just today, and see what they’ve done for me in two-and-a-half years.
And at that, that was the last post-game interview done as Sunderland manager. It always felt like it would end in a way like this. With Roy Keane around, nothing ever lacks drama.