Ahhh! Do you remember the days? Full stadiums, tense atmospheres, and star-studded teams arriving at the Stadium of Light knowing they were in for a tough game.
Those were the good times.
Roy Keane’s Sunderland were back in the big time, and they were holding their own. Just.
Despite horrendous away form and an injury list as long as the list of clubs Steve Bruce has (mis)managed, Sunderland appeared to have the knack of getting a result just when they needed it.
Their home form was key, and wins against Derby, Bolton, Portsmouth and Wigan at home in the weeks previous ensured they were in the mix for survival.
The week previous, Everton beat Keane’s men at home.
Despite a late Andy Reid kick almost going in, the performance was insipid, and Sunderland deserved to lose to David Moyes’ side.
This 1-0 was a different performance. Sunderland were in this game from start to finish.
Despite going a goal down early on to a John Terry header from a Frank Lampard corner, the home side had plenty of opportunities spurned. Blues keeper Carlo Cudicini made a superb stop to keep out Andy Reid’s curling free-kick, and Kenwyne Jones missed a glorious close-range header.
Unfortunately, though, it was the early goal for Chelsea that was the difference. After a decent spell of pressure, the visitors took the lead when Terry headed home Lampard’s vicious inswinging corner. The Blues skipper escaped the attentions of marker Jones to meet the ball at full tilt at the near post, and power it past Craig Gordon.
After this though, it was the performance of the home side that was almost the main talking point from this game. The concession of the goal seemed to spring them into action. New signing Andy Reid was extremely impressive despite his rotund physical stature.
Another Irishman, Roy O’Donovan, got a rare start. He paired up well with the extremely impressive Kenwyne Jones. The mixture of O’Donovan’s pace and Jones’ physicality unsettled the aforementioned Terry and defensive partner, Alex.
Chelsea looked far from convincing at the back and were missing the organisational skills of the influential Ricardo Carvalho.
Carlos Edwards blazed over after good work by Reid, and he almost levelled the scores with a sweet 25-yard free-kick just before the half-hour mark but was denied by a superb Cudicini save.
O’Donovan also had a header comfortably saved by the Italian. Cudicini was also on guard to save a Jones header and a long-range Grand Leadbitter effort.
This game was a summary of Sunderland’s season thus far - plenty of chances, plenty of heart but lacking the necessary cutting edge at times. ,
As the game went on, the chances kept coming and going. Yorke, Whitehead and Jones late on all missed gilt-edged opportunities to get a famous draw for the newly promoted teams.
Uncharacteristically, Roy Keane was almost beaming with pride in defeat. He praised the commitment and intensity of performance from his team.
I thought it was real top-quality performance, the effort and intensity of our play was excellent and we created chances. Against a top-quality team we were outstanding. I could not have asked any more from the players.
It’s not often that you are applauded off after a defeat but the players were very, very good and gave everything.
Post-game, it was the performance of Sunderland’s main striker that was the talking point in the press room and on Match of The Day that evening. Kenwyne Jones had been a fantastic buy for the team the previous summer and his performances were beginning to get noticed by bigger clubs.
His duel with John Terry in this particular game was fascinating. Jones’ ability in the air was impressive. His spring and ability to get his head to almost any ball did not go unnoticed by Terry. Terry met his match and was generous with his praise post-match.
Jones was fantastic against us and I have played against him twice now.
He is a very good player, very hard working and probably the best in the air in the entire Premier League. He really is that good.
All the lads were talking about him afterwards in the dressing room, saying how well he did and how impressive he was. If Sunderland can stay up and keep hold of him they have a fantastic chance of kicking on.
Whilst Jones was fantastic, his lack of goals in the recent weeks before was hampering Sunderland’s safety mission. This would have to improve in the weeks to come if they were going to survive.
In fact, it did. Sunderland went on to win the next three games and Jones’ was to the fore of all that was good. Next season, Harry Redknapp would be next in line trying to buy our main man.
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Evans, Nosworthy, Collins, Edwards (Prica 62), O’Donovan (Yorke 73), Whitehead, Leadbitter (Harte 85), Reid, Jones.
Subs Not Used: Fulop, McShane.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Ashley Cole, Obi, Ballack (Essien 73), Lampard, Joe Cole (Wright-Phillips 82), Kalou, Drogba.
Subs Not Used: Hilario, Carvalho, Shevchenko.
Goals: Terry 10.
Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).