Following Daryl Murphy’s dramatic late header which sealed a 3-2 victory over Middlesbrough, and with results elsewhere going our way that very same afternoon, April 26th 2008 was the day we officially achieved our number one target for the 2007/2008 season: Premier League survival as a newly-promoted team.
It had certainly been a challenging and turbulent campaign, littered with some morale-crushing defeats (not least the shambolic loss at Goodison Park) as well as some hard-fought victories, but Niall Quinn’s decision to back Roy Keane fully had been vindicated as we secured survival with two games left to play.
As thoughts turned to the summer following the conclusion of the campaign, it felt as though this was the ideal opportunity to really kick on, add some quality in key positions, and target a higher league finish for 2008/2009.
Indeed, at the time, it felt as though Quinn’s 2006 comment about Keane having a brief to ‘take the club where he wanted it’ was closer than ever to being fulfilled. The club was most definitely on an upward trajectory and the future appeared to be bright.
As the transfer window opened and business commenced, the decks were cleared, and the departures included Greg Halford, Ross Wallace, Russell Anderson, Paul McShane, Ian Harte, Andy Cole, and Stephen Wright, as well as Dickson Etuhu, who joined Fulham on a season-long loan after an inauspicious first season in red and white.
By early July, Sky Sports News began to report that Keane was on the hunt for a ‘package deal’ of players from Tottenham Hotspur, with no less than four players linked with a switch from White Hart Lane to the Stadium of Light.
First to arrive was Finnish international Teemu Tainio, who joined the club for an undisclosed fee, signing a three-year contract. Keane described Tainio as a ‘versatile player’, and there was a hope that he could fulfil the role of ‘utility player’ with the same effectiveness as he had at Spurs.
With Tainio onboard, the raid on Juande Ramos’ team continued, as ex-Wigan full-back Pascal Chimbonda joined on a three-year contract, following a messy departure in the wake of his less-than-positive reaction to being substituted during the Carling Cup final.
The third Spurs player to join would ultimately remain on Wearside for three years, becoming a fans favourite in the process and often dazzling us with his skill and creativity.
Steed Malbranque, memorably described by Tony Blair as his favourite player during an appearance on ‘Football Focus’ a couple of years prior, added some flair and some genuine class to our midfield, making a total of 112 appearances in red and white, and arguably being released before his time at the end of the 2010/2011 season.
Although we didn't manage to secure the services of the fourth Tottenham player- Younes Kaboul, whose agent famously stated that ‘Younes wouldn’t join Sunderland even if there was an earthquake’, we would resurrect that deal some years down the line, and quite successfully, too.
As the new season approached, we made arguably the most eye-catching signing of the window, in the shape of former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse, who joined on a season-long loan from Marseille.
As I recall, this particular transfer felt like something of a coup for us. Cisse was still only twenty seven years old and had made a real impact during his time at Anfield, and it felt as though we had covered off the goalscoring issue perfectly, as Kenwyne Jones was looking better and better.
Despite his undoubted pedigree, however, a return of ten goals in thirty five league appearances was not exactly stellar, and our goalscoring issues would linger for the entirety of the season.
It was around this time that yet another bizarre transfer was completed, as notorious troublemaker El-Hadji Diouf arrived from Bolton for a mercifully short spell, before being sent packing to Blackburn in January 2009.
Towards the end of the window, we went on another mini-spree, as David Healy, George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand joined from Fulham and West Ham respectively, and with mixed results.
Healy never really came close to capturing his Northern Ireland form at Sunderland; Ferdinand, like Malbranque, would enjoy a reasonably fruitful three-year spell on Wearside, and McCartney’s return to the club he left in 2006 would not be particularly memorable.
The summer of 2008 would be the final window that Keane would oversee on Wearside, as he departed the club in November after a desperate run of results and equally poor performances.
In theory, the players who joined should have formed the core of a squad that was capable of mid to lower mid-table stability, but sadly, it didn’t pan out that way.
Rumours of unrest in the boardroom, with the spectre of Ellis Short emerging into view, were a distraction, and after two memorable years and some often inspirational signings, the era that had started so promisingly would fizzle out in a thoroughly unsatisfying manner.