It was a game that some people thought should never have taken place, and it will be remembered for the drenching handed out to the 7,500 spectators who made their way to Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on a Friday evening in late July than any of the football on offer.
The fixture was originally pencilled in for the Saturday at the Stadium of Light, but Sunderland’s hadn’t factored in the International Airshow so alternative plans had to be made...
For Roker Report’s James Nickles, even the idea of arranging a game against North Yorkshire’s biggest club showed the first signs of naïveté on the part of the club’s new owners Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven:
Maybe the hierarchy - of course still in their infancy at the top of the club - likely do not understand Boro fans’ regard towards Sunderland. While we generally see them as just another team, this match is their massive derby.
The new Sunderland gaffer, Jack Ross, had overseen a half decent pre-season while he filled his squad with as many new bodies as he could before the Lads first tier three match for over 30 years. A loss to Darlington on 10th July was followed by a draw at Hartlepool - results that had sparked anger and intra-fanbase fighting in the stands - but a win at Grimsby and a 6-0 defeat of St Mirren in Scotland had lightened the mood ahead of this one.
‘Boro would be a challenge, but it was ultimately the elements that won out rather than the football.
The saga over former Manchester United defender Paddy McNair had just been resolved, with a move south of the Tees secured for a deal reported at the time to be worth up to £5 million. He started the game for Tony Pulis’ men, who also had ex-Sunderland striker Ashley Fletcher on the bench alongside Grant Leadbitter, and one time Black Cat loanee Stewart Downing on the wing.
Sunderland’s side side was packed full of new faces including Jon McLaughlin, Glenn Loovens, Tom Flanagan and Dylan McGeouch along side familiar names like Donald Love, Adam Mathews, George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch. Youngester Bali Mumba was in midfield and Josh Maja partnered debutant Jerome Sinclair. The squad was far from complete - Luke O’Nien hadn’t yet signed for the club.
The game started in bright sunshine, and there was action early on as Love had a long range shot saved before Adama Traore hit the bar for the home side following a trademark mazy run. The future Spanish international would leave the pitch following a collision with Loovens, and leave Teesside for good a few days later as he was transferred to Wolves.
Midway through the first half - the storm hit. Thunder, lightening and a torrent of rain that was almost biblical in proportions hammered down on the players, officials and staff as the spectators hurried to the upper sections of the stands for cover.
As we know, an English summer can be unpredictable, and yet nobody could have foreseen the sheer volume of water that was deposited on the pitch that day. The game managed to get to half time and the ref even tried to get the game back underway, before the inevitable decision to call it a day was made.
As lightening flashed across the sky, the floodlights were knocked out and the players were ushered back down the tunnel with the safety of everyone now at risk. Welshman Tony Pulis claimed he’d never seen anything like it and soon afterwards, both managers agreed that it was impossible to continue, as Ross later explained:
I popped my head out at half-time and it was ridiculously heavy. There’s a safety issue with thunder and lightning as well, and as it’s pre-season, it’s an easier decision to make rather than a competitive match.
Even the Airshow itself was affected by the weather, with a few displays cancelled. It’s not on this year either, which is a bit of a shame.
But then the men’s football season proper starts early too, so maybe its best left... and thankfully the weather forecast is looking pretty settled!