Following the release of the fixtures for 2022/2023, things are falling into place for Sunderland’s return to the Championship after a four-year absence.
The league table is filled with plenty of big names, and it is very similar to what has been christened on social media as the ‘Coca Cola era’ of the Championship.
We can look back on that period, from 2004 onwards, with plenty of fondness, as we were crowned division champions twice during that time.
The most recent occasion, of course, was a season which has gone down as one of the most enjoyable of the 21st century, when Roy Keane took Sunderland from the bottom of the league to the summit within eight months.
As entertaining as it was memorable, 2006/2007 saw Sunderland rack up 88 points, winning 27 matches along the way.
In addition to the wins and the positivity that Keane brought, a flurry of late goals provided us with many memorable moments, particularly in the final minutes of fixtures against Southampton away and Burnley at home, which all but sealed promotion back to the Premier League.
At the time, ITV held the broadcast rights to the Championship highlights, and more often than not, Matt Smith brought us good news during our particular highlights package. It was superb.
We experienced our fair share of late joy under Alex Neil towards the end of last season, with a late, late winner against Shrewsbury Town being a particular favourite of mine, and as we return to the second tier, I will certainly not turn my nose up at the prospect of late winning goals. At the end of the day, there are few better ways to win a game of football.
Ourselves included, there are no less than thirteen sides from the 2006/2007 edition of the Championship that will feature in the upcoming campaign, and in what feels like a tribute to the ‘Coca Cola era’, the new season will begin in similar fashion.
In August 2006, Niall Quinn led us out at the Ricoh Arena to face Coventry City on the opening weekend. That match ended in a 2-1 victory to the home side, despite the best goalscoring efforts of Daryl Murphy.
This time, we play host to the Sky Blues on the opening day once again, in a game that will be televised live on Sky Sports and played in front of an expectant Stadium of Light crowd.
Some of the sides we faced fifteen years ago will be hoping the upcoming Championship campaign is better for them. We know that other teams will certainly be in better shape than they once were, and the best example of this is Luton Town.
In 2006/2007, we did the league double over the Hatters with a 7-1 aggregate score, as they were relegated to League One along with Southend United and Leeds United.
Next season, they will doubtless be buoyed by a hugely impressive 2021/2022 campaign that saw them reach the playoffs, only to fall short in the semi-finals against Huddersfield Town.
Despite that disappointment, however, Nathan Jones’ team will certainly be a different prospect this time around, however, and they know exactly how to make Kenilworth Road a tough place for opposing teams to visit.
The upcoming campaign will pit us against some genuine stalwarts of Championship football, but there is not much about the other twenty three sides that we should be fearful of, and Alex Neil will surely be thinking along the same lines.
It might seem unlikely, but a repeat of our escapades from fifteen years ago would be pretty damn good, wouldn’t it?