A lot of Sunderland fans had never had it so good as in 1999.
Riding high in the top-flight on the back or a record-breaking Football League title win and with the Niall Quinn Kevin Phillips combo on fire, match days at the still fresh Stadium of Light were something to look forward to.
In the first two weeks of December alone supporters had seen an iconic win over Chelsea and a pleasingly comfortable FA Cup victory against Portsmouth – these were enjoyable times indeed, and hopes were high that more was to come.
Another win on this day kept the mood going, with the three points taken off Southampton moving Peter Reid’s squad to third in the Premiership table.
It was another routine success against Hampshire opposition, and it seemed from pretty much the first minute that Sunderland had more than enough to see off the Saints with former Dell trainee Phillips scoring twice and his team going close on several other occasions.
Both of Phillips’ strikes came courtesy of his classic ‘big man little man’ double act with Quinn, who twice nodded the ball into his path.
Full of confidence, Phillips managed to slip his marker before firing low for the first goal and with time running out, he provided another poacher’s finish after the ball had been knocked back across the six-yard box.
The brace sent the Wearside faithful home happy yet again with even a second half penalty save from Neil Moss, who had come on for Paul Jones after the Southampton number one had been injured attempting to prevent the opener, not enough to dampen the mood.
Sunderland’s form meant that jubilant punters filing out onto the Monkwearmouth streets felt impervious to the bitterly cold temperatures.
Thomas Sorensen played the game in jogging bottoms and perhaps could have done with a bit more to do to help him stay warm – he was rarely tested and had to watch on with the rest of the crowd as his teammates controlled proceedings, impressed no doubt by the quality on show.
Michael Gray’s deep ball onto Quinn’s head for the first goal looked simple enough for example, but Reid had his side playing like a well-oiled machine.
The fans will have also been encouraged by new boy Kevin Kilbane, who impressed on his debut as a substitute and did brilliantly down the left wing in the build-up to the winner.
Wearing the number 4 shirt recently vacated by Kevin Ball, Kilbane had arrived earlier in the week during a busy period that also Adrian Heath return to the club as Senior Coach to work alongside Bobby Saxton and Ricky Sbragia as part of the backroom staff.
Everything was looking rosy at this point – even the goal nets at the stadium featured a much-loved design that saw the initials ‘SAFC’ woven into the top section with red material.
It was a time of great excitement and people were keen to see what a new era would bring; the club was hurtling towards a new century and seemed to be in great shape to do so.
Little did we know however that a Millennium Bug was about to hit Sunderland hard, and that the win over Southampton would not only be the club’s last of the 20th century but also the last for over three months – nothing lasts forever apparently, but 1999 will always be remembered fondly.
Saturday 18 December 1999
FA Carling Premiership
Sunderland 2 (Phillips 30, 90)
Sunderland: Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, McCann, Roy (Williams 65), Schwarz (Kilbane 87); Quinn, Phillips. Unused: Marriott, Rae, Reddy
Stadium of Light, attendance 40,860