After the momentum built up by two seriously impressive away wins, the Roy Keane bandwagon rolled into the Stadium of Light to face Leicester City.
Having overseen two wins out of two, as well as the arrival of a raft of players on deadline day, the expectation of Roy Keane and Sunderland was building, illustrated by the fact that the crowd was more than 10,000 greater than it had been for our previous home game, against West Brom.
While new signings Kavanagh, Varga, Connolly, Miller and Wallace had all made an impact to one extent or another. Kav, in particular, was that special kind of midfielder – a genuine playmaker who could dictate the game. He got up and down the pitch, prompted every passage of play and had even got on the scoresheet. A goalscoring midfielder! Whatever next?
Varga had added some physicality in defence, although he still wasn’t a patch on the Stan Varga who took on Arsenal single-handedly; Connolly – arriving at Sunderland at the 50th time of asking – showed some neat touches and looked like a ‘sniffer’.
Liam Miller had real quality on the ball and had also bagged, (another goalscoring midfielder! Whatever next?!) while Ross Wallace was another who’d made an instant impact – for his goals, as well as his bare chest.
As a result of Wallace’s arrival, another summer signing, Toby Hysen, found himself on the bench. I always felt sorry for Toby. His dad had been a class – prematurely silver – act for Liverpool in the day, a hard but classy defender, but Toby was a skillful, broad winger, with skill, pace and he looked a goal threat too.
Keane didn’t fancy him; not really sure why. He’s one I look back on and think he never really fulfilled his potential – not with us anyway.
Alongside Hysen on the bench was Keane’s sixth deadline-day signing, Dwight Yorke. Having swapped Sydney for Seaburn, the soon-to-be 35-year-old was a signing that raised a few eyebrows.
Yorke had been out in Australia for a year or so, and in reality, not many players come back from the A-League. If you leave English football to play in Oz, you’re generally not coming back. It’s lower League One/League Two standard at best now, and in the best part of two decades ago the gulf was wider. For players like Yorke, Sydney was a lavish retirement village, with attractions aplenty.
Still, ‘Yorkie’ had a reputation, an aura, and had reinvented himself in Australia as a central midfielder. Which was just as well, as his pace and attacking prowess had certainly fizzled out post-Manchester United.
An expectant crowd – with a significantly greater number of Irish flags than a couple of weeks earlier – welcomed Keano with heartfelt sincerity.
He was a huge, huge figure in the game. If you weren’t around and watching football at the time, it’s difficult to appreciate just how high-profile he was. I’m not sure there’s a modern-day equivalent. He was box office, on and off the field.
To be fair to him, though, he’d kept himself on a tight rein so far – his talk was of his genuine admiration for the club, something ingrained in him by Brian Clough – but the day before this fixture, he’d let off the shackles, and gone on a verbal tirade about everything from wags to Alex Ferguson. Box office, alright.
As the game got underway, Sunderland looked in irrepressible form. Brown and Varga both went close from excellent set-piece deliveries from Wallace, while the Scottish shirt remover came close himself. Miller almost got onto the end of a Kav free kick, but at half-time, the scoreboard remained blank, despite our best efforts.
Those efforts were prompted by Yorke, who’d been an early arrival off the bench, replacing the injured Daryl Murphy. Yorke played in a role just off the striker, Chris Brown, and in truth looked a yard or two off the pace. It was a more advanced role than he’d take up in the rest of his time with the club.
Soon after halftime, the bandwagon hit a bump in the road. New signing Miller lost the ball and Matty Fryatt put the ball past Ben Alnwick. The ‘next Monty’ never got close.
Leicester could, and probably should have doubled their lead, and having escaped a second blow, Keane looked to the bench and summoned Hysen and Grant Leadbitter, who replaced Miller and Neill Collins.
Hysen, who’d made an impressive debut in the previous home game – Quinny’s win over West Brom – immediately gave the crowd a lift, and justifiably so.
His direct, attacking instinct added a different threat, and within 10 minutes he’d bagged the equaliser, driving the ball in from the edge of the box, past Paul Henderson in Leicester’s goal.
The crowd sensed another victory was in the offing, but despite a few threatening moments we couldn’t quite get the winner.
Still, seven points from his first three games was an impressive start for one of the biggest names in European football.
As for Yorke, he did take a few games to get up to speed – and there were concerns that perhaps age really had caught up with him – but playing in a deeper midfield role he showed genuine class, and was instrumental in what followed.