The mood was low around Wearside as Sunderland’s return to the Nationwide Division One commenced.
Mick McCarthy sold many of his big names following relegation as costs were drastically cut - and he claimed that if the departing players were as good as some claimed, the team wouldn’t have been relegated from the Premier League.
Replacing them were free transfers that the former Republic of Ireland manager believed he could trust - chiefly Gary Breen, who was a strong presence with the correct mentality for a team who needed to win, and learn how to win regularly again.
The club lost their first two games of the season, extending their run of consecutive defeats to an extraordinary 17 games. This left the record for the most defeats in a row looming large over a sorry club in a sorry state on and off the pitch.
Thankfully for Sunderland, the turnaround began with an away win at Preston North End where Marcus Stewart was one of the goalscorers. His form for the team was to become integral over the next couple of years.
The win at Deepdale kickstarted the club and our season - it was the impetus that McCarthy needed and it felt like his time at Sunderland was only really beginning.
The good form continued with another three in the next four fixtures, leaving the lADS flirting with the play off places early in the season.
And on this day 19 years ago, something rather remarkable happened.
Estonian international goalkeeper Mart Poom joined the club the previous season but played second fiddle to Thomas Sorensen in the Premier League, and was barely seen in the flesh.
The fact that he cost the club two million pounds intrigued many who felt he should be getting more game time considering the club's poor run of form throughout the season.
It was only when we were relegated that Poom featured regularly, starting 43 out of the 46 games, cementing his place as our first choice - and based on his performance in this particular game, it was clear to see why.
A string of saves from the Estonian kept Sunderland in a game where their overall performance was below the standard of the previous weeks. That being said, we defended well, with Poom and his defence putting their body on the line consistently throughout.
While Thomas Butler and John Oster did cause trouble for the Derby defence, Kevin Kyle and Marcus Stewart up top had an off day.
It didn’t look like it was going to be Derby’s day, though - until right at the finish, they got the goal that their play deserved, seemingly snatching victory through skipper Ian Taylor’s goal seconds before full time, with the defender rising above the rest of the Sunderland defence to head past the helpless Poom into the back of the net.
A defeat would have been a little harsh on MicMac’s side due to work rate and endeavour they showed throughout - cue the Poominator, who got the final word against his old side.
The goalkeeper arrowed a header past him from the resulting corner taken by substitute Sean Thornton.
Poom could have milked the moment but didn’t.
There was no tearing off of his shirt, cartwheels or kissing of the badge - he had too much respect for his old club and supporters.
Instead, he just raced back to his goal to continue the game, with disbelieving teammates trying to catch him as he pushed them away.
Pride Park was stunned to silence - nobody could quite believe what had happened.
After the game, Poom was ecstatic yet respectful:
I saw the gaffer waving me up so I got in there,’ Poom said. ‘The corner was put in the perfect spot for me, and there is nothing that Andy Oakes [Derby’s keeper] could have done to prevent the goal.
This has been an emotional day for me because the Derby fans were fantastic to me while I was there and I never really had the chance to say goodbye to them. They were magnificent with me again today, and still applauded me at the end.
It was truly a Roy of the Rovers moment, and the goal has lived long in the memories of fans of both sides to this day.
DERBY COUNTY: Oakes; Jackson, Mills, Caldwell, Boertien; Morris, Taylor, Huddlestone, Holmes; Svensson, Junior.
Subs: Valakari (for Morris, 46), Zavagno, Elliott, Labarthe-Tome, Grant.
SUNDERLAND: Poom; Williams, Bjorklund, McCartney, Arca; Oster, Healy, Thirwell, Butler; Stewart, Kyle.
Subs: Thornton (for Butler, 82), Ingham, Clark, Proctor, James.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Taylor (90) 1-0
Poom (90) 1-1