The Steve Bruce era at Sunderland AFC had just begun, and 13 years ago today he was to oversee his first friendly match.
The side were going up against near neighbours Darlington, but in truth the day was as much about the new boss trying to reshape his squad in the transfer market as it was him giving those already at the club a chance to show what they could do on the pitch.
With talks over a move for Peter Crouch still ongoing, Sunderland were also reported to have had a bid for Nathaniel Clyne rejected by Crystal Palace.
An outbound deal was also knocked on the head, with Daryl Murphy unable to agree terms on a switch to Hull City, but while the striker was absent for this one, the rest of Sunderland’s Irish contingent were still out in force for a game that initially had to be delayed due to the large number of away supporters trying to get into Darlington’s Northern Echo Arena.
Although Bruce would later suggest that his Geordie roots meant he was never really accepted by the fanbase, there were over 4,000 Sunderland followers in the ground backing both him and the players for his first match in charge.
They witnessed some decent football too, although the opening two goals owed a lot to sloppy defending from the Quakers – Andy Reid pinching the ball from Ben Starosta and seeing his cross deflected in by Matty Plummer, before Kieran Richardson pounced on a fumble by goalkeeper David Knight moments later.
Half time brought a raft of changes. Northern Ireland internationals David Healy and George McCartney were two of those that made way, and while Reid also came off he was replaced by his Republic of Ireland compatriot David Meyler. Anthony Stokes was also introduced following the break, while Paul McShane and Roy O’Donovan would both have notable cameos.
One of the few players to remain on the pitch throughout was Trevor Carson.
The County Down stopper looked good throughout and made a couple of solid stops, while at the other end Sunderland continued to look sharp following the substitutions. McShane headed home a Carlos Edwards corner before sustaining what looked like a nasty injury, and after coming on for the last half an hour, O’Donovan wrapped things up late on.
Whilst Bruce was looking to add some new faces to his side there were several recognisable figures within the Darlington ranks. In Colin Todd, the hosts also had a new manager that hailed from the region, while Craig James, back at the club on trial, plus midfielders Mark Convery and Chris Lumsdon, all played having started their careers on Wearside. Veteran striker Dean Windass – often linked with Sunderland – played up front, while Todd had also hoped to include Darren Williams as well, but had been unable to get clearance in time.
The former Sunderland favourite watched on from the stands but would eventually join Gateshead instead. Those deals for Crouch and Clyne never came off either, although Bruce was still able to get plenty of business done – including the sale of McShane later in the window after his knee problem turned out to be less serious than feared.
There would be further changes by the time the two teams met again a year and a day later, but more on that tomorrow…
Thursday 16 July 2009
Darlington 0 Sunderland 4 (Plummer OG 35, Richardson 39, McShane 59, O’Donovan 85)
Darlington: Knight (Liversedge 63), Starosta (Arnison 50), James, Smith, Plummer, Miller, Convery, Lumsdon, Thorpe, Windass (Gray 50), Smith. Unused: Donninger, Groves.
Sunderland: Carson; Bardsley (McShane 46), Ferdinand (Nosworthy 46), Collins, McCartney (Anderson 46); Malbranque (Edwards 46), Leadbitter (Colback 46), Henderson (O’Donovan 62), Reid (Meyler 46); Healy (Stokes 46), Richardson (Waghorn 46). Unused: Misiewicz
Northern Echo Darlington Arena, Darlington attendance 5,871