The eventual 1998-99 Division One champions were virtually unstoppable – even when they were without some of their key components. By this stage in the season promotion was already looking like a certainty, and the introduction of a new name in goal on this day emphasised just how strong a squad Peter Reid had managed to assemble.
Sunderland’s last game had been a top of the table trip to Bradford City, where their title credentials were severely tested. Confidence was so high however that not even an injury to first choice stopper Thomas Sorensen could stop them, will Niall Quinn famously taking over between the sticks for the last few minutes and helping secure a clean sheet having already scored what would prove to be the winner.
Next up was another away game, this time at Grimsby Town, and with Sorensen still side-lined it opened the door for his understudy Andy Marriott to come into team for his debut. The Welsh international had joined the club earlier in the campaign and been forced to wait for his chance, but there were few signs of cobwebs in an otherwise tense opening half at Blundell Park.
Reid later admitted that his side were slightly under par in the early exchanges, but with the travelling support serenading their keeper with chants of “Swing Low, Sweet Marriott” the Lads eventually took control. The gaffer described the stand in as “faultless”, whilst in front of him it was Chris Makin and Nicky Summerbee that drew the most praise in what may have looked like a routine win on the face of it but was in truth a little harder to come by.
The Mariners created a few openings and forced Marriott into some solid stops at 0-0, but after falling behind their efforts petered out and Sunderland dominated. The breakthrough came courtesy of a wonderful Summerbee through pass that Kevin Phillips put away with typical calmness, and the victory wrapped up when the winger once again crossed into the area and saw the ball drop for Lee Clark to poke in.
Both goals were celebrated wildly in the away end, and back on Wearside where the footage was being beamed back to the concourse screens at the Stadium of Light. Fans were certainly enjoying watching their side do the business and the points continued to roll in thereafter, no matter who was in the starting XI. Whilst Sorensen was soon back in action, both of Sunderland’s scorers against Grimsby had previously endured lengthy spells on the side lines earlier in the campaign and it was up to those on the fringes to step up when needed.
Marriott, despite his impressive bow, did not feature again until September but he had played his part in winning the title, and thanks in part to their impressive squad depth the club still managed to amass a phenomenal 105 points.
Saturday 13 March 199
Nationwide League Division One
Grimsby Town 0
Sunderland 2 (Phillips 50, Clark 79)
Sunderland: Marriott; Makin, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Ball, Clark, Johnston; Quinn (Dichio 80), Phillips (Bridges 80). Unused: McCann
Blundell Park, attendance 9,528