I love Niall Quinn as much as the next Sunderland fan, but I think that he would be the first to admit that his reign as manager did not exactly work out. Bless our legendary Irishman, but he just wasn’t capable of getting it together when he took temporary charge at the start of the 2006/2007 season.
It is important to remember that, during the summer of 2006, Sunderland AFC was in an absolute mess.
We were managerless, rudderless and going nowhere fast, despite the optimism injected by the arrival of the Drumaville Consortium.
Try as he might, however, Quinn couldn’t get a manager to take on the job.
Sam Allardyce and Martin O’Neill had already rejected it, and rumours were rife that Roy Keane had turned it down, too. With no alternative, the newly-appointed chairman took it upon himself to lead the team until a successor could be found.
On this day, Sunderland lost their league second game of the season at home to Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City.
The Blues had been relegated along with Sunderland at the end of 2005/2006, after languishing towards the bottom of the table for the entire campaign. However, they started the new season as one of the favourites to win promotion back to the top flight.
They had invested wisely during the summer and brought in future Sunderland players Sebastian Larsson and Nicklas Bendtner, among others, in order to bolster their promotion hopes. In addition, they had started the campaign brightly with a good win over Colchester United, a game in which Bendtner scored.
In contrast, Sunderland’s campaign got off to a disappointing start with an away defeat to Coventry City. Despite an early opener from Irish striker Daryl Murphy, Coventry overturned the deficit with future Sunderland player Stern John among those on the scoresheet.
In this particular game, Birmingham only needed a solitary goal to secure the victory, which came from the penalty spot. Mikael Forssell’s coolly converted spot-kick gave the visitors the points, and consigned Sunderland to their second defeat inside five days.
In fairness to Quinn and his team, the performance was certainly not appalling and we created plenty of opportunities to score.
It was clear that we lacked the creative spark that would be necessary in order to compete in the Championship, but winger Liam Lawrence was at the forefront of everything positive and creative in Sunderland’s play.
Early on, Lawrence should have put us ahead after missing a glorious headed chance from close range, as well as having a goal ruled out for offside later in the game.
It is fair to say that Clive Clarke’s Sunderland career contained very few positive memories, and his debut was no different. It was his challenge, described by the BBC as ‘reckless’, which gave Forssell the chance to open the scoring from the penalty spot just before half-time, which he duly took.
Sunderland huffed and puffed throughout the second half, but their lack of creativity was evident and Quinn highlighted this point after the game.
I’m not as disappointed as I was on Sunday because we played for the full ninety minutes against arguably the best team in the division.
The players showed me heart, and it means I can now work on a bit more creativity on the training ground.
That’s what we lacked and I’m looking to bring in players to give us that.
Unfortunately, it was going to get worse before things got better, and it would take the eventual arrival of Roy Keane to spark a change in Sunderland’s fortunes, which would lead to a truly unforgettable season.
Sunderland: Alnwick, Delap, Cunningham; Caldwell (Clarke 29), Danny Collins, Miller; Whitehead, Leadbitter, Lawrence; (Stead 74), Murphy, Elliott.
Subs not used: Wright, Ward, Kevin Smith.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Tebily; N’Gotty, Sadler, Johnson; Nafti (Danns 84), Muamba (Clemence 71), Larsson; Bendtner, Forssell (Dunn 67)
Subs not used: Doyle, Martin Taylor.
Booked: Kelly, Muamba.
Goals: Forssell 40 (pen)
Ref: G. Salisbury (Lancashire)