A new era was commencing in Sunderland in the summer of 2009.
After a narrow escape from relegation under the stewardship of Ricky Sbragia, the Scot revealed he would be stepping down as manager - he looked visibly shaken from the experience of leading the team, and the sense of relief when they stayed up was written all over his face.
With Sbragia departing, Niall Quinn was seeking to find someone who could take Sunderland to the proverbial ‘next level’ and with this in mind, he turned to Wigan Athletic manager Steve Bruce. Bruce was appointed on the 3rd June of 2009 and he quickly looked to rebuild a squad that could compete a bit higher up the leagues.
In the build-up to the new season, the Lads took part in the Amsterdam Tournament.
Along with Sunderland, Atletico Madrid, Ajax and Benfica were involved. Each team played two games in the competition with the team that finishing top being declared the winner.
After losing their first game to Benfica, Bruce’s side took on Atletico Madrid in the second game of the competition, and the new boss was hoping for a response as he named a strong side.
With almost 20,000 fans in the Amsterdam arena, a Kieran Richardson-inspired Sunderland put in a very decent performance.
Although it was only pre-season, it was all the more impressive considering the names in the Madrid team - the likes of Diego Forlan, José Antonio Reyes and Jorge Koke added star power to the fixture, and despite the fact it was only a friendly it showed that Sunderland would need to work hard to beat top quality opposition.
With a solid defence, and Kenwyne Jones causing problems at the other end, Sunderland were well on top throughout.
Richardson’s first goal came from the penalty spot after neat build up play between Anton Ferdinand and Jones put Andy Reid through, who was taken down. The second goal came late in the second half from Richardson, who was picked out on the edge of the box and he angled his shot into the corner off the post.
It was a good day’s work from Bruce’s men and after the game, he cited the confidence in the team as something that particularly pleased him.
It was great for everybody.
We know it’s a friendly, and it’s all about preparations but it was nice to see them take away a little bit of confidence.
We’ll take that into the game with Celtic, which is another tough game.
Sunderland entered the new season with this win and another against Celtic in a confident mood.
With a few signings added into the mix, Bruce began the season brightly with two wins out of the first three giving the Newcastle-born manager some breathing space - something he needed to quieten the doubters who weren’t particularly convinced by his appointment.