I have said it before in these pages, but the job Mick McCarthy did getting us promoted in 04/05 was remarkable and incredibly underrated.
With a team of aging pros and championship journeymen - coupled with some younger players from down the pyramid – he cajoled, organised and motivated them to win the title after failing in the playoffs the season before.
It was a huge, huge achievement, and is only tainted by what subsequently happened the season after.
On this day 18 years ago, however, we were all feeling pretty optimistic about the season ahead. We’d already signed the Ipswich goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, who’d been one of the championship’s best the season before, and had also earmarked his teammate, Tommy Miller.
The boyhood Sunderland fan from Shotton Colliery had been linked with a move ‘home’ on a number of occasions before. A 6ft 1in goal-scoring midfielder, he’d been a top performer for the Tractor Boys, who’d done well in the top flight before being relegated a season before were.
Miller had excelled at Championship level, scoring one in every four games, and was certainly viewed as an upgrade on the previous season’s first-choice central midfield pairing of Jeff Whitley and Carl Robinson, who had both done well but were not seen as having premier league class. Miller had scored 15 goals for Ipswich from midfield - it was no wonder McCarthy made him a major transfer target.
Miller had run down his contract at Ipswich, and with the East Anglian team failing to make it through the playoffs, he was able to leave Portman Road on a free.
Of course, as a 26-year-old goal-scoring midfielder coming into the prime of his career, he was in demand. Celtic, Wigan and Leeds were also heavily linked, all of whom were happy to meet his wage demands.
All season, Ipswich gaffer Joe Royle had been very keen to stress Miller would be staying with Ipswich, but the lure of Sunderland, Mick McCarthy and Premier League football proved too strong, and he joined the lads as one of our major summer signings.
Miller spoke to us on the Roker Rapport podcast and you can hear all about how the transfer happened and his time with the Lads here.
McCarthy had hoped to make it a Portman Road hattrick that summer – but young striker Darren Bent chose Charlton ahead of the lads.
Of course, we all know how it turned out for Miller at Sunderland. For whatever reason – playing in a poor side, overwhelmed, or just not up to Premier League football – Miller struggled massively, and in an awful season was one of the poorer performers.
Often on the periphery of play, he rarely got involved to any noticeable extent, earning him the nickname ‘the invisible man’ – which unfortunately, was pretty accurate.
After relegation, new manager Roy Keane made it clear Miller wasn’t part of his plans, and loaned him to Preston. Miller had the last laugh, though. Believing him not to be a danger, Keane let him play against us at the Stadium of Light while on loan, and of course Miller had an excellent game and North End won, 1-0.