We’d already gone from scrapping to avoid the drop to the third tier in May 1995 to seventh in the Premier League precisely four years later, and it was anyone’s guess where we would go from here. Could we kick on, or would the bubble burst?
Peter Reid had strengthened his squad with the likes of Don Hutchison, Stanislav Varga, Emerson Thome and Julio Arca, but the core of the side would remain pretty much the same - once again relying on Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips to do the business up top.
As the 2000/2001 season got underway, we could’ve been forgiven for assuming the bubble might’ve just have burst on our rise under Reid, as we won only one of our first five games and were sitting fourth from bottom.
Thankfully, a 2-1 win over Jim Smith’s Derby County in mid-September kicked off an incredible run that saw us lose only two from fourteen Premier League fixtures, which included a draw at Anfield, a victory at St James’s Park and a home win over Chelsea.
This run of games took us up to the Boxing Day clash at bottom-of-the-table Bradford City, who’d been promoted up the Premier League at the same time as us, but who now seemed to be on a completely different trajectory.
We went into the game sitting sixth in the table and as half-time approached, the only question was how we hadn’t taken the lead.
Gary Walsh in the Bradford goal had made a number of saves, and Phillips, who was making his return following suspension, managed to put the ball over the bar from a couple of yards out.
However, just when Bradford thought luck was on their side and they’d survive until half-time, Sunderland finally broke the deadlock. A Michael Gray cross found who else but Quinn, who eventually finished on the rebound after Walsh had saved his initial effort.
Reid’s side started the second half as they finished the first, and Gavin McCann sent Phillips through on goal to score his sixth of the season three minutes after the break.
Less than ten minutes later, he was at it again, and this time it was Hutchison who was the provider, sending the striker clear to prod home and put the game out of reach for the home side.
Robbie Blake offered a little hope when he pulled one back with fifteen minutes left on the clock, but with five minutes remaining, Phillips completed his hat-trick from 20 yards.
Even after he’d had failed to score a fourth from the spot in the final minute, an away fan dressed as Elvis ran onto the pitch to worship at the feet of our hat-trick hero as the away end broke into a chorus of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’.
Tueday 26th December, 2000
FA Carling Premier League
Bradford City 1 - 4 Sunderland
[Blake 75’ - Quinn 45’, Phillips 48’, 55’, 85]
Bradford City: Walsh, Atherton (Nolan 67’), Molenaar, O’Brien; Jacobs, Lawrence (Blake 55’), McCall, McKinlay; Beagrie, Windass, Carbone (Ward 55’)
Substitutes not used: Davison, Nolan, Petrescu
Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Craddock; Thome, Gray, Hutchison; McCann (Schwarz 75’), Rae, Arca, Quinn (Dichio 68’), Phillips
Substitutes not used: Macho, Williams, Varga