Roy Keane spent big over the summer of 2007 as he tried to reshape Sunderland’s squad ahead of their Premier League return.
The club had struggled massively over the course of their last two top-flight campaigns but were keen to make a real go of it this time, and with a fresh sense of optimism sweeping through the Stadium of Light several arrivals were brought on board.
Memories of dismal relegations in 2002-03 and 2005-06 still lingered however, and whilst the new look side seemed much more able to cope with the demands of the division than their predecessors the threat of another drop couldn’t be ruled out entirely.
The Lads could count themselves unlucky on several occasions not to have earnt the points their performances deserved and come the January transfer window Keane was hoping to bring in further reinforcements to help get things over the line.
Two such additions made their Sunderland debuts on this day in 2008, when Birmingham City were the visitors to Wearside, and whilst they would eventually go on to have very different careers in red and white the pair both played their part in a welcome victory on the night – full back Phil Bardsley helping keep a clean sheet whilst second half substitute Rade Prica made sure of the points with the second goal of the game.
It was a good start for the duo and a good win for Keane, who saw his side move out of the drop zone as a result after they had taken an early lead.
Bardsley had a hand in the goal too, punting a long free kick into the penalty area for Kenwyne Jones to flick on into the path of Daryl Murphy. It was simple stuff but excellently executed, with Murphy blasting the ball home.
Birmingham, who included Sebastian Larsson within their ranks, had their own debutant to call upon and future Sunderland forward James McFadden had a decent game, although some of his new teammates around him were wasteful – Cameron Jerome going closet to an equaliser when he forced a strong save from Craig Gordon.
The Scot was one of those big money buys from the start of the season and he had done well to stay on his feet prior to the block, but Jerome had been clean through and could have perhaps done better.
The same was then suggested of Liam Ridgewell, who with over an hour gone dallied under pressure and played a woefully under-hit ball back to Maik Taylor which was pounced upon by Prica.
On for the start of the second half in place of Dwight Yorke, the Swedish international stole in and calmly lofted his effort into the net to open his account and give Sunderland some breathing space.
It was a clinical finish that had supporters eager for more, and whilst he seemed to have duly obliged by bundling in again soon after the ‘goal’ was ruled off for a combination of offside and handball.
At that point it seemed to matter little, but who knows how things may have panned out had it stood – whilst Bardsley quickly became a first team regular, Prica struggled to build on his initial bow and became a peripheral figure.
Signed within a day of each other, the pair had cost a reported £2 million each and had joined returning loan star Jonny Evans.
A further £4 million was then spent on the final day of the window as Andy Reid moved to Sunderland and he too would have an impact on his debut.
Beating Birmingham had been crucial as it took the Lads above their visitors in the table and saw a confidence building run of home league results continue – that had made it three wins on the bounce and the sequence was then extended to four when in his first appearance Reid produced a wonderful through ball for the key second goal against Wigan Athletic.
Keane now had all the tools he needed to finish the job, and in the end, safety came with games to spare.
Tuesday 29 January 2008
Barclays Premier League
Sunderland 2 (Murphy 15, Prica 66)
Birmingham City 0
Sunderland: Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; Whitehead, Yorke (Prica 46), Miller, Murphy; Jones, Stokes (O’Donovan 63). Unused: Fulop, McShane, Waghorn.
Stadium of Light, attendance 37,674