On the outset, a first trip to the red side of Bristol in over four years may look pretty inconspicuous.
The west country provided us with some decent League One away trips, with a couple of wins over Rovers being two of the more enjoyable days out in the third tier.
Yet the visit to Ashton Gate will be of interest for another reason - it’s the first time we have journeyed to the ground since the infamous ‘Bristanbul’ match of February 2018.
When you attend a football match you want to see your team win, and preferably in an exciting way.
Lars: Being surrounded by Sunderland fans on that day and going through those 90+ minutes, this was not just excitement, but to quote a friend – “The highs were very high and the lows were very low”… this game verged on the bipolar.
With thirty matches of the Sky Bet Championship completed, Sunderland sat second from bottom and three points from safety.
Bristol City, led by future Sunderland boss Lee Johnson and with Bailey Wright propping up their defence, occupied the last playoff spot. Given our woeful season, the outcome was expected by many to be a straightforward home win.
Lars: 3-3 after being 3-0 ahead – I should have expected it really, this was classic Johnson. I loved many aspects of his time at Sunderland, but defensive organisation was not his strong point.
The Robins raced into a 3-0 lead after barely 35 minutes, with Aden Flint opening the scoring just five minutes in and a brace from Famara Diedhiou, leaving Sunderland staring down the barrel of yet another miserable Championship away day.
Some of the thousands of fans who had made the mammoth trip to Bristol left following the third goal - they could barely be blamed.
Paddy: I was on a piss-up in Munich and turned my notifications off! I was thinking of how many City might get. Would I turn on my phone again to see we’d shipped another 3 or 4 in the second half? As it turned out, the only goal notifications I would look back at my phone to see would be for Sunderland.
The Sunderland line-up that day was Camp, Jones, Oveido, Browning, O’Shea, Clarke-Salter, Honeyman, Cattermole, Fletcher, Asoro, Ejaria.
Lars: My previous visit to Ashton gate was in August 1970, aged just 15, for one of my first ever away games – the opener for that season in the then Division Two – a seven-goal thriller and a “not very Alan Brown” performance.
These events tend to stick in the mind… after a holiday with friends in Torquay, en route to family in Swansea, I thought what an easy stop it would be in Bristol for a little light entertainment.
Sunderland, with a side reminiscent of that which so memorably won the FA Cup three years later, missing just Dave Watson, Ron Guthrie, Ritchie Pitt and Vic Halom, were 3-1 down after 64 minutes, with the game slipping away from them.
Those supporters with good club knowledge will recall that three of the four reinforcing players who eventually lifted the Cup were defenders…
In the game 42 years ago – ex-Forest striker Joe Baker stepped up with two goals, and at 74 minutes we were level. But that defence of Irwin, Harvey, Todd, and Heslop just could not hang on, even with Monty in goal, and the fans went away disappointed after a late winner from City.
Times changed, but excitement levels did not. The 2018 encounter – named Bristanbul on social media after Liverpool’s Champions League victory in Turkey - was worse in terms of being an emotional rollercoaster in what was a truly horrible season after Ellis Short had pulled the plug financially.
The total disgust and disbelief felt being 0-3 down at half-time was mixed with fear of being hammered in the game, and this becoming just another energy-sapping defeat; Bristol City had, after all, beaten Manchester United that season. The fear came in part from the thought of the team playing at Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon the next season.
Sadly that is what eventually transpired, and we were caught in the swamp of League One for far too long.
Lars: I appreciated manager Chris Coleman’s point made after the game that this team needed more game time, given the fact that four newly acquired players, Camp, Clarke-Salter, Ejaria and Fletcher were playing.
All teams need time to gel, but anyone catching the highlights of the game could see that in the first half the Sunderland defence played like strangers. What was this with a back five anyway? The three first half goals conceded taught me at the time that at least we functioned much better with a back four, a goalkeeper who talks to his defence with Cattermole and/or Gibson protecting the back line as a holding midfielder.
The fightback started late, with only 20 minutes left when Josh Brownhill put through his own goal.
A consolation and nothing else? Chris Coleman’s side thought otherwise and finally found some fight from somewhere.
There would have been a glimmer of hope following this goal, and when Aiden McGeady bagged a second for us, the thousands behind the goal that Sunderland were attacking started to believe.
Lars: Catts gave a true box-to-box performance in the second half. Those who read my scribblings know that I’m an admirer of the man, but he was a force to be reckoned with in the latter part of that game!
With still 10 minutes left on the clock, the most unlikely point we could have gained in that season was on.
It may have taken until injury time, but there was just enough left in the tank for Sunderland to fashion one more chance - and it was finished off once again by an opposition defender.
Rarely have I experienced a set of fans and a team so united in will and purpose, and the closing minutes of the game were just raw emotion. Joel Asoro, who had been excellent throughout on the right wing, crossed and the away fans just willed the ball into the net in the 90th minute for an own goal.
Scenes of amazing celebration and euphoria carried on after the game with the players generously acknowledging the contribution of travelling supporters.
It took a while to calm down after the match.
Lars: At the time I wrote: “In the cold, objective light of a Monday morning we still sat in the clagging mire of a relegation dogfight in a very tough league. But this priceless point and the manner of the comeback will provide Sunderland with something invaluable, a bump up in team morale and the knowledge that the new line-up can gel into a solid unit that can actually pull away from the bottom of the Championship”.
Whilst there was pandemonium in the away end, and a kind of fight shown that we had rarely seen in a bitterly disappointing campaign, it was unfortunately one of very few highlights we experienced that season.
Fans came away from the ground hoping to see a repeat of the fight in the remaining dozen or so matches, yet it wasn’t to be.
Relegation to League One was confirmed, but the less said about that the better.
Sadly, the inability to hold on to leading goal scorer - loanee Lewis Grabban, who left at New Year, meant that this hastily put together team did finish bottom of the Championship. Ashton Gate 2018 was one of the good days, though.
We venture to Bristol today with a much better squad and with plenty more optimism than this 2018 visit - though, a repeat of that fixture will do little for anyone’s blood pressure.