Things were only beginning for Sunderland in the Championship under Roy Keane but, all of a sudden, the memories of their dismal start to the season were already becoming a distant memory.
On this day sixteen years ago, Keane’s men had their second away game on the road - and after beating Derby County with a last-gasp winner, Sunderland were on their travels again for the relatively short trip to Elland Road to face a struggling Leeds United side.
Our team looked completely different after Keane’s frantic Deadline Day saw six new faces come through the doors at the Academy of Light. Stan Varga, Dwight Yorke, Ross Wallace, David Connolly, Liam Miller and Graham Kavanagh all joined on a dramatic final day of the transfer window.
The latter two players brought the luck of the Irish with them as they, along with Stephen Elliott, got on the scoresheet to ensure Sunderland secured the victory in a 0-3 win.
In truth, the performance was as comfortable as the scoreline suggested. This was a Leeds United side under Kevin Blackwell who were struggling - they had only won two of their first seven games, and their fans were steering clear of the stadium in protest at the off-the-pitch issues that had hampered the club for a number of years.
Kevin Blackwell bemoaned their situation in his post-match interview, and cited the upturn in Sunderland’s fortunes as something the club should be aspiring for:
I think the fans are fed-up with what has happened at Leeds.
They can see a situation at Sunderland, where someone comes along and pumps millions into the club - and they think ‘why can’t it be us?’
In saying that, this shouldn’t take away from the performance of Keane’s men. The football was stylish and swashbuckling, and they played with a zest and swagger that hadn’t been seen by a team in red and white for years.
The second goal scored by Graham Kavanagh summed up the confidence that the Lads were playing with - one touch football between Miller and Daryl Murphy sent the former Wigan Midfielder charging through the centre, where he fired a shot from outside the box to beat the keeper and make it 0-2.
Sunderland were comfortable, and Elliott added a third early in the second half - another Murphy flick releasing the ex-Manchester City youngster, who beat Warner with a superb volley.
Whilst the BBC suggested after that Keane watched on ‘impassively’, one would like to think that he was extremely happy with the form that the team were showing.
With six points from two away games, he couldn’t have asked for a better start.
After the game, he expressed his delight with the result, and was rather bullish about his expectations of the team:
It’s the best thing in the world when you win football games. But for me looking at the bigger picture, we’ll get ready for the next one.
It’s fantastic and if the fans are going home happy we’ve done something right. If the fans are happy I’m happy.
I was expecting to come to Leeds and win, I’m not in a state of shock or surprise. We’ve got all the same aims.
In those early days, you could see the mentality that Keane brought to the dressing room. Every game was a must-win - not because of Sunderland’s position in the league, but because of the size of the club, and Keane’s belief of where we should have been.
In a game contested by two sleeping giants, it appeared one was waking up while another was lumbering further towards hibernation.
Leeds: Warner, Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Crainey, Stone (Carole 54), Douglas, Westlake, Lewis (Nicholls 45), Horsfield, Healy (Blake 63).
Subs Not Used: Gregan, Moore.
Booked: Westlake, Butler, Nicholls, Kelly, Douglas.
Sunderland: Alnwick, Neill Collins, Varga, Cunningham, Robbie Elliott, Liam Miller, Whitehead (Lawrence 80), Kavanagh, Wallace, Murphy, Connolly (Stephen Elliott 43), Stephen Elliott (Leadbitter 60).
Subs Not Used: Ward, Danny Collins.
Booked: Kavanagh, Liam Miller.
Goals: Liam Miller 28, Kavanagh 45, Stephen Elliott 48.
Ref: A Marriner (W Midlands).