Sunderland and Darlington have been regular opponents in the Durham Challenge Cup over the years, yet the two clubs have only met once in senior first team competition – a 1987 FA Cup tie at Roker in which the hosts ran out 2-0 winners.
The relatively short distance between the two clubs mean they will often play in friendly games however, including a spell earlier this century when the Lads visited in three preseasons out of four.
After another 2-0 win in 2007 the second and third matches were only 366 days apart, the 2009 instance being Steve Bruce’s first game in charge of the club.
There had been a gulf in class between the two sides that day, and whilst that had widened since then, the game played on this day in 2010 proved a much closer thing.
Bruce’s team, fired by Darren Bent’s superb 24-goal return in his first season at the club, had ended 2009-10 in a credible 13th in the Premier League whereas Darlo had slipped out of the Football League.
The Quakers were being tipped for an instant return though, and they certainly looked a decent bet for promotion after pushing Sunderland all the way in this pre-season tussle.
Not only did they manage to keep Bent at bay, but they stopped the rest of his teammates getting into any rhythm either and were minutes away from earning themselves what would have been a notable draw.
Admittedly, Sunderland’s plans were not helped by the early withdrawal of Lee Cattermole due to an ongoing groin niggle. The club had already been linked with moves for Paul Scharner and Stephen Ireland over the summer but one midfielder they had brought in was Ahmed Elmohamady, who came on in Cattermole’s place for his first appearance. It prompted a reshuffle that resulted in Jordan Henderson moving into the centre having earlier tested Sam Russell in the Darlington goal with a well hit free kick.
Other than that, the closest either side got to making a breakthrough in the first half was just before half time when Bent hit the woodwork.
Sunderland, although well contained for the best part, created the better openings of the second half too and when they did eventually score late on it was thanks to a touch of real quality from Bolo Zenden, who struck a low shot past Russell from the edge of the penalty area.
The goal was enough to secure a narrow victory for the Lads, who were overseen by assistant manager Eric Black due to Bruce being in Portugal for a charity event being held on behalf of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
Darlington meanwhile were managed by Mark Cooper, who had been appointed a fortnight earlier and had included Academy of Light graduates Jamie Chandler and Joe Cornforth in his side. Cooper seemed happy with what he had seen when speaking to the press after the game, but despite the confidence, that was being shown in his side and them winning the 2011 FA Trophy the club would fall short of the play-off spots in the coming season.
Sunderland however, even after a sharp drop off in form after Christmas, actually improved on their previous 13th place yet there was to be no rematch in the build up to 2011-12 and both clubs endured poor runs – Bruce soon departed and there was worse still for Darlington, who folded after finishing in the relegation zone.
It would be four years before the two would meet again, by which time the Quakers were playing under the name Darlington 1883.
Saturday 17 July 2010
Sunderland 1 (Zenden 83)
Sunderland: Carson (Mignolet 46); Bardsley (Weir 84), Turner, Kilgallon (Ferdinand 60), McCartney (Liddle 46); Henderson, Cattermole (Elmohamady 29), Richardson (Colback 46), Malbranque (Zenden 60); Bent (Jones 60), Campbell (Tounkara 79).
Northern Echo Darlington Arena, Darlington attendance 5,625