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Ah, to go back to the summer of 2000, out on the town every weekend and most weekdays, and in between you were able to sit back and watch the Lads compete at the top end of the top flight of English football.
Great days, although there was talk of the dreaded “second season syndrome”, which seemed to be more of a thing than in recent years. Coming off the back of finishing 7th in what was then the FA Carling Premiership in our first season following promotion, there was as much trepidation about the follow-up year as there was excitement.
Only Stan Varga made his debut as part of the starting XI on the opening day of the season, and it was all that was required, with the Slovakian putting in a legendary performance to help his new side to a 1-0 victory over Arsenal courtesy of a Niall Quinn goal.
In the weeks that followed, Don Hutchison, Julio Arca and Emerson Thome would be added to the ranks, but results took a while to improve after Peter Reid found his side sitting 14th in the table following a goalless draw at home to Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City at the beginning of October.
By the time Walter Smith’s Everton were ready to travel to the Stadium of Light on this day in 2000, Sunderland had won their previous two games - Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic, both away from home - and were ready to return in front of a full house to keep the momentum building.
Considering we seem to think goals came easy throughout this whole period, it was an issue during the first part of the season in question. Everton was the Lads 16th fixture and we were going into the game having scored only 15, had scored more than once in a league game on only four occasions, and Kevin Phillips hadn’t scored a goal from open play in ten games.
In the opening 45 minutes, the visitors were the better side, although both teams had decent opportunities. Smith would have been pleased with his side during the halftime break, but this all changed at the stroke of the referee’s whistle when Alex Rae opened the scoring.
A long punt upfield by Thomas Sorensen aiming for Quinn fell to Rae on the edge of the box, who drove the ball home to give his side the lead.
After the break, it was all Sunderland. Chances came and went, with Phillips clearly desperate for a goal, and just after the hour mark it finally arrived. An Arca scuffed shot fell to an unmarked Phillips, who finished from ten yards out as he did so often.
Following the game, Reid commented on his star striker:
He’s playing better than last season when he couldn’t stop scoring. But he’s got his goal now and it’ll make him happy.
As well as making the 46,372 who were in attendance happy as Sunderland moved into the top six of the FA Carling Premiership on the back of three successive victories.
Ah, to go back to the summer of 2000...
Monday 4th December, 2000
FA Carling Premiership
Stadium of Light
Sunderland 2-0 Everton
[Rae 45’, Phillips 65’]
Sunderland: Sorensen, Williams, Craddock, Thome, Gray, Kilbane, McCann, Rae (Schwarz), Arca, Quinn (Varga), Phillips (Oster) Substitutes not used: Macho, Thrilwell
Everton: Gerrard, Watson, Naysmith, Pembridge, Weir, Ball, Gemmill (Nyarko), Tal (Gravesen), Campbell, Cadamarteri (Moore) Substitutes not used: Simonsen, Unsworth