Sunderland’s defence was becoming increasingly problematic as the 2007-08 season progressed; the team had begun the new year in a perilous Premier League position, after enduring a number of comprehensive defeats.
In truth, the defence was very poor, and Keane was feeling the heat. Defeats against Chelsea (5-0), Luton (3-0), Wigan (3-0) and unforgettably, Everton (7-1) were all miserable. However, in Keane’s mind, this 3-0 FA Cup defeat against fellow Premier League strugglers Wigan at the Stadium of Light was the one that he felt “ashamed” about.
The Irishman made significant changes to the team, giving many of his squad players – including Graham Kavanagh, Roy O’Donovan, Martyn Waghorn and Daryl Murphy – a chance to prove themselves. Few of them grasped the opportunity, however; all the more frustrating given Steve Bruce had made numerous changes for Wigan too.
Paul Scharner opened the scoring for the visitors, whose team featured ex Sunderland man Kevin Kilbane. Second half Paul McShane own goal was added to by David Cotterill to complete a miserable afternoon.
With big league games against the Latics and an in-form Portsmouth, Keane was worried about the team’s defensive struggles and seemed to be questioning his own job performance.
The players will be disappointed.
But sole responsibility lies on my shoulders, 100 per cent. I picked the team here and there are a lot I brought here.
I speak to Niall the odd time. The results are not good enough. There have been too many occasions like this. We have played Wigan twice and we have lost 6-0. There’s not too much between the two teams. But we have lost 6-0. I’m not doing my job. Eventually time runs out on everybody. How many times will Sunderland fans hear me say that?
As weak as Sunderland’s team was, it still included new signing Jonny Evans, who had rejoined on loan from Manchester United after playing an inspirational role in winning the previous season’s Championship title. His signing was seen as crucial to improving a fragile defence, and his central defensive partner Nyron Nosworthy echoed the thoughts of his manager after the match.
It felt like a testimonial game, it wasn’t taken seriously enough.
As the above results and the nine other League defeats showed, this certainly was not a blip. This was look-away bad, and the concern for Keane, Niall Quinn and the investors from the Drumaville consortium, was that if not rectified instantly and convincingly, then it could be the turning point for supporters.
Reinforcements were needed, and soon the likes of Phil Bardsley, Andy Reid and Rade Prica joined the club – Bardsley and Reid added greater quality and solidity to the side.
This game was, indeed, a turning point for many of this matchday squad’s careers – Graham Kavanagh, Paul McShane and David Connolly never featured for the club again.
It appeared to be the wake-up call the team – and manager – needed.