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Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Fixtures Day: Which four games during the season stand out most in your mind?

As the 2022/2023 fixtures are released today, we asked our panel to pick their favourite games from opening day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and the final day of the season...

Photo by Graham Stuart/PA Images via Getty Images

Gav says…

Opening day

This might sound like a strange one, but I absolutely loved the opening day win over Charlton in 2018 - our first game after relegation to the third tier.

The side was patched up and nowhere near up to standard, but with a new manager in place and the sun shining down on us, we fought hard and won the game at the death.

When Lyle Taylor scored an early penalty there was a feeling of immense dread around the ground, but we got ourselves level through Josh Maja - his first goal of an amazing run of scoring that season - and won it in the 90th minute through a moment of magic from Bryan Oviedo and a cracking header by home-boy Lynden Gooch.

I know things didn’t really work out for us that season, but on that day it just felt like such a huge relief to see a new-look outfit winning a game.

Boxing Day

Bradford at the Stadium of Light in 2018.

The game itself was absolutely crap, but the collective effort of the club and the fanbase to pack the place out and set a new record attendance for a third tier fixture was immense - there was a real feeling of unity, and we all felt part of it.

Families from all over the country and even the world were on Wearside for the festive season, and made sure they could be there to watch the Lads in person as one big red and white family - in an otherwise bleak period of time ownership-wise, this was probably Donald and Methven’s crowning moment given how drastically things went downhill from this point on.

New Year’s Day

“Twenty seconds of added time left... Martin O’Neill’s saying ‘Get forward, we can nick it here!’... Ji... Sessegnon... for Jiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii... HE’S ROUND THE GOALKEEPER, HE’S DONE IT! ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE! IT AIN’T OVER TIL IT’S OVER!”

Some of the most iconic commentary of a Sunderland game that you’ll ever hear, courtesy of Martin Tyler. It doesn’t get any better than that for me.

Final day

Luton away under Roy Keane was one of my happiest days as a fan.

People will remember that to be in the away end that day, you had to have been invited by the club, and me and my dad were two of the lucky fans who received a letter inviting us to purchase tickets.

We knew results had to go our way for us to win the league that day, but the Lads made sure they did their bit, and we absolutely trounced the Hatters on their own patch, scoring some excellent goals in front of a packed away end.

There were Sunderland fans all over the ground, and I’d argue that there were probably more of our fans in the home end than there were Luton supporters. The celebrations after the game were iconic, crowned by Sir Niall Quinn and King Charlie Hurley making their way onto the pitch to join in.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Luton Town v Sunderland - Kenilworth Road Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

Opening day

During a recent roundtable, I spoke about how much I enjoyed the first game of the 1991/1992 season.

That game will always hold some nice memories, but I think the opening game of 2021/2022 will also be fondly remembered in years to come.

After missing out in the 2020/2021 playoffs, we needed to get off to a good start, and the Lads played some lovely stuff against Wigan Athletic, despite us fielding an unfamiliar back four.

More importantly, though, it was great to be back to normal after all the Covid restrictions, and that meant so much to a lot of people.

Boxing Day

This is a tough one, as Boxing Day is one of my favourite dates of the season and I’ve really missed them in the last few years.

I can narrow it down to two games: beating Derby County in 1996, and winning at Blackburn Rovers five years later.

The Derby game was the last at Roker Park, and because it was a bit of a battle, the atmosphere was electric. The away end at Ewood Park was bouncing too - we’d had a good journey across, taken a few thousand fans, and ended up pulling off a bit of a shock win, so it was the perfect away day.

New Year’s Day

I’m guessing a few people would go for the 2012 win over Manchester City, but twelve months earlier, we’d managed another 3-0 victory over Blackburn, at that point I really thought we were going places.

I don’t even think we played particularly well, but we had real quality in the side - Danny Welbeck, Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan all scored and it looked like we were onto something. A lot would happen between that game and the Ji goal a year later, but it was nice to dream at the time.

Final day

I never like the end of the season, even when the team have achieved something. It can be a fraught occasion if you still have something to play for, so games such as the victory over Luton Town to win the Championship in 2007 are stressful - you at least want to be sent away with something to be positive about, and that is what happened in 1994/1995.

Peter Reid had arrived and led us to safety, so there was a party atmosphere against West Bromwich Albion before the game kicked off, and Phil Gray scored a late leveller to send everybody home with a smile on their face.

It was a similar scenario under Sam Allardyce at Watford in 2016. A 2-2 draw had supporters excited about what would happen next, but the difference with that Baggies fixture is that it didn’t end up being a false dawn.

Watford v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Chris Wynn says…

Opening day

It was a pretty tedious goalless draw, but just for the atmosphere and the fact it seemed surreal that we had been promoted to the Premier League, I’m going for Leicester City at Roker Park in August 1996.

I was a teenager at the time, and after years of struggling in the second tier it felt good to be following a successful side again, and to finally sign players for over £1 million.

The likes of Niall Quinn and Tony Coton were big names and with Reidy in charge, we knew we’d give it a good go.

It was also Roker Park’s final season, which gave every game an extra meaning- you wanted to soak up the atmosphere and bottle it in your mind, but maybe not the Spurs game at Roker that year, when we were crap.

Boxing Day

I’m not sure that I can look beyond our first festive fixture at the Stadium of Light.

After the excitement of moving into our new home and kicking off the Nationwide Football League Division One season against Manchester City, we didn’t get off to the best of starts.

The crowd of almost 39,000 that was in attendance soon dropped off, as Peter Reid tried to get us back on track and the atmosphere turned sour for a few weeks.

In November 1997, Quinny returned from his knee problem, Nicky Summerbee had arrived from Manchester City, and we were soon flying.

Our 2-0 win over Bradford City on Boxing Day could have been a cricket score, and not only was it witnessed by our first crowd of over 40,000 in a competitive game, it also moved us up to fifth place in the league, which made us believe again.

New Year’s Day

Following this game we went third in the Premier League. On New Year’s Day.

It still sounds amazing and weird in equal measure, and happened after our 4-1 demolition of George Burley’s Ipswich Town at the very beginning of 2001.

We’d won six of the last eight league matches leading up to the game, a run that included the second successive 2-1 win over the Mags at Sid James’ Park.

A crowd of over 46,000 saw us recover from falling behind to an early Marcus Stewart goal, and by the hour mark we were 3-1 up, with three different names on the scoresheet.

Finally, Stefan Schwarz came off the bench to make it four late on. What a time to be alive.

Final day

I’m going back to May 1999, when we took on Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light.

It wasn’t the fairly routine 2-1 win over Trevor Francis’ side that blew me away. It was the fact that it was the first trophy I’d seen Sunderland lift in the flesh in my lifetime.

We blew the competition away by totaling 105 points in the league, scoring 91 goals in the process, and that day was party time at the end of our second year in our new home.

It was the only occasion in all the time I’ve followed Sunderland where the only debate about an upcoming fixture was how many we’d win by. Typically, Kevin Phillips and Quinn were on the scoresheet, ahead of Bally lifting the trophy. Good times.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Sunderland v Birmingham City Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

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