The Roy Keane era at Sunderland was something special - we witnessed him raising the standards through a combination of his own experience, his character as a man, and a decent bit of help from the new owners in strengthening the side in the transfer market.
Keane lifted the place and allowed us to travel the country with our chests puffed out with pride. It took us on a journey from the bottom of the Championship to the title and promotion in the first nine months.
Then came his first crack at the Premier League, and with the aim of survival, it could be deemed a success. Staying up with 39 points in 15th, three places and three points above Reading who occupied the final relegation place.
There’s a theory that the second season for promoted clubs is more difficult than the first, so Roy Keane prepared by spending big as he had done the previous summer.
Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque and El Hadji Diouf all made their debuts on the opening day of the 2008-09 season with Djibril Cisse and Anton Ferdinand signing on for the Lads before the close of the window.
After a 2-1 win over the mags at the end of October, a run of one win in six ramped up the pressure which was amplified by a new American owner in Ellis Short who had taken the reigns from Niall Quinn’s Irish consortium.
And then after a 4-1 home defeat to Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers, things came to a head and Keane was gone. It was all over.
Ricky Sbragia was the safe pair of hands for the second half of the season as we remained in the Premier League, finishing two places and two points above our friends up the road who gave club legend Alan Shearer the distinction of taking them down.
So, the big question going into the summer of 2009 was, who was to follow Roy Keane as Sunderland manager, and on the 3rd June it was confirmed. Keane’s former Manchester United teammate Steve Bruce had made the move from Wigan Athletic, who had just finished five places and nine points better off than Sunderland in the top flight.
The talks were lengthy, but a three-year deal was signed that was reported to be worth £60,000 a week, with £3 million heading in Wigan’s direction in compensation, with Niall Quinn giving the reasons behind the club’s choice:
Steve will bring a professionalism and strength of character to this club that will really help to bring us forward to where we all want to be. He knows more than anyone what football means to people of this region and I’m confident that he will be able to instil into our players exactly what it means to play for this football club.
Two months later, ahead of the season opener at the Reebok Stadium, Bruce had managed to strengthen the squad with five major signings: Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Lorik Cana, Frazier Campbell and Paulo Da Silva.
In the case of Darren Bent, it was a transfer saga that had spanned the full length of the new manager's tenure so far and by the end of the window, Michael Turner had arrived from Hull City and John Mensah was another addition at the back, joining on-loan from Lyon.
Our fifth game of the season was on this day back in 2009 with Phil Brown’s Hull City visiting the Stadium of Light, where Turner was ready to make his debut in red and white against his former club only days after making the move.
The four games of the Premier League season so far had been a mixed bag, with two wins and two defeats on the board, and the visit of the Tigers was a chance to get our season off to a good start.
Turner went straight into the starting line-up, with Nyron Nosworthy dropping to the bench after starting the previous game at Stoke City, which had ended in a 1-0 defeat through a Dave Kitson goal.
Against Hull though, the Lads got off to a great start due to Craig Fagan bizarrely handballing in the box when there was no need, giving Bent the opportunity to smash the ball into the bottom left-hand corner for his third Premier League goal of the season.
Hull didn’t make things easy for us in the remainder of the first half and on the stroke of half-time, Kamil Zayatte levelled things as he headed home unmarked from a corner.
Things didn’t stay that way for long after the break, however, as Sunderland pressed from the off - and when a cross from Phil Bardsley from the right found itself rolling into the path of Andy Reid on the angle, he lined it up on the half volley and drove it into the bottom corner from twelve yards out.
Then, around fifteen minutes later, Bruce’s side took complete control of the game. Anton Ferdinand won the ball back about ten yards inside his own half and spread the ball out right to Bent, who with the help of Zayatte dropping back twenty yards behind any other Hull City player, had acres of space.
It was a strange goal from this point, because after picking the ball up from about thirty yards out, Bent ran with the ball completely unchallenged until he was almost at the edge of the six-yard box, and simply slotted it home past Myhill in the Hull goal.
Then ten minutes later, and with fifteen left on the clock, a Sunderland corner provided another opportunity for the Lads to add to the score. It was an Andy Reid inswinger from the right and as the ball was in flight around six yards out, debutant, and former Hull City man Turner rose with Zayatte and the ball hit the back of the net.
Turner was off celebrating, until he realised he was right in front of the away fans, and simply held out a hand, until he got back to the home fans where he could begin celebrations again.
As much as Turner claimed it, later it was decided it was a Zayatte own goal.
Saturday 12th September, 2009
Barclays Premier League
Stadium of Light
Sunderland 4-1 Hull City
[Bent 13’ (pen) 66’, Reid 49’, Zayatte (OG) 75’ - Zayatte 44’]
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley (Mensah), Turner, Ferdinand, Richardson, Malbranque (Da Silva), Cana, Cattermole, Reid, Bent (Jones), Campbell Substitutes not used: Carson, Nosworthy, Henderson, Murphy
Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Olofinjana, Sonko, Zayatte, Fagan (Vennegoor), Kilbane (Mendy), Ghilas (Altidore), Geovanni, Hunt Substitutes not used: Duke, Boateng, Barmby, Halmosi