Sunderland had returned to the Premiership in 1999-2000 and, an opening day lesson at Chelsea aside, were settling in very well indeed.
Highflyers Leeds United had been the only other side to beat Peter Reid’s men in the opening weeks, and on this day it was Leicester City’s turn to try and overcome the inimitable Niall Quinn/Kevin Phillips partnership that was starting to set the division alight.
To be fair to the Foxes they did manage to keep the duo quiet, but the Lads had way more than just those two in their armoury and secured the points via alternative means, continuing their unbeaten home record in the process.
Two weeks earlier they’d needed a Phillips equaliser to earn a point against Coventry City, but this time it was Sunderland that took the lead and they never looked back – looking good for the win long before Gerry Taggart was sent off for a second bookable offence with an hour gone.
The visitors were managed by future Sunderland boss Martin O’Niell and included in their starting lineup Steve Guppy, who would later join him on the coaching staff at the club.
It was Stefan Schwarz however, himself linked with the managers job at the Stadium of Light in later years, who had the biggest impression in this match, and he brought a couple of high quality saves from goalkeeper Tim Flowers.
Like Schwarz, the England international had a good game and he made several other stops but had little chance with the two goals he did concede.
First to get on the scoresheet was Paul Butler, who just before the half hour mark found himself unmarked on the edge of the six yard box and planted a well-placed header into the net. The chance came courtesy of a Gavin McCann corner and the midfielder enjoyed the more central role he was given for day, wrapping up the scoring late on when after a slick move he arrived in the box and produced a calm finish.
McCann was given a standing ovation when he was replaced shortly after the goal by debutant Eric Roy, the fans appreciating the fact they were watching a routine topflight win – something that hadn’t been too common a sight in the preceding years.
The two previous attempts at that level had resulted in game but ultimately unsuccessful fights against relegation, and whilst both of those squads had their merits and were somewhat unlucky, this time Sunderland were looking comfortable amongst the elite.
The success against Leicester was a good yardstick for the Lads’ progress.
The season before had seen a Tony Cottee-inspired side edge past Sunderland in the semi-finals of the Worthington Cup, but by this stage the tables had turned. The win began a run of six successive victories during which only two goals were conceded and the Black Cats’ new home, still only two years old, had become a real fortress.
There were to be only three defeats on Wearside defeats throughout the campaign, and as was shown 23 years ago today, Sunderland were heading in the right direction.
Saturday 11 September 1999
FA Carling Premiership
Sunderland 2 (Butler 28, McCann 82)
Leicester City 0
Sunderland: Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Ball, McCann (Roy 86), Schwarz (Williams 74); Quinn (Dichio 79), Phillips. Unused: Marriott, Fredgaard.
Roker Park, attendance 40,105