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On This Day (15 July 2006): ‘Ower’ Gary gets involved in Sunderland’s turnaround

With work already underway off the pitch at Sunderland, the Lads now needed the start getting back into shape as well!

Sunderland AFC 2006-07 - a season that started on this day

The recent appointment of Hannah Dingley as caretaker boss at Forest Green Rovers has caused plenty of discussion in the game, some of which has been pretty one-eyed it must be said, but back in 2006 they were managed by somebody who Sunderland fans were much more familiar with.

Gary Owers had been a fantastic servant to SAFC during the 1980s and 1990s and after leaving Roker Park he’d eventually settled in the west of England. Still registered to play but also the first person to ever be given the job at Rovers on a full time basis, he had helped the team stave off relegation from the Conference National in his first season as boss, and with them having just moved into The New Lawn he welcomed his former employers down ahead of the following campaign.

This was to be Sunderland’s first game of the Drumaville era – kind of. The consortium had seen their takeover bid accepted, but with elements of the deal still to be rubberstamped and Niall Quinn yet to fill the club’s own managerial vacancy, reserve coach Kevin Richardson had been asked to oversee things for the time being. The impending arrival of the new owners had raised spirits but with fans still coming round from the painful top-flight relegation that preceded it the situation called for a safe pair of hands in the background, and with Richardson having previously done well with the second string’s emerging talent he was well placed to aide preparations amidst the uncertainty.

Although the Championship season was only three weeks away the ongoing sale of the club had seen much of the transfer activity being put to one side, meaning that the former Everton, Arsenal and Aston Villa midfielder was working with a group of players who were also trying to emerge from what had been a bruising demotion. Thankfully though the squad took an important first step towards recovery on this day and produced an encouraging performance that helped maintain the improving mood, and it was much to the amusement seemingly of some rather intrigued onlookers too.

Liam Lawrence got things going

There was nothing usual in seeing a large travelling support– not even posting a then record low Premiership points total just two months before was enough to put off the red and white army – yet whilst their new chairman in waiting was not in attendance, Quinn being busy elsewhere as he hurriedly attended to other footballing matters, Sunderland were also being watched by a large flock of sheep in an adjoining field that overlooked the pitch. The stadium was even less enclosed than it is now and the livestock were getting used their new neighbours, who in truth struggled to keep pace with the Lads.

Liam Lawrence opened the scoring when he jumped to meet a cross from Julio Arca after half an hour. A raft of changes were made at the break but the side kept pushing, and after a smart volley from Daryl Murphy had made it 2-0, Dean Whitehead wrapped things up with a shot from the edge of the penalty box – Kevin Kyle being involved in the build up to both those goals as he and his teammates asserted their dominance.

The Scottish forward had come through the ranks on Wearside just like Owers had done several years before and having not come up against his boyhood club since leaving, the Rovers manager saw the final few minutes as the perfect opportunity to appear in one last Sunderland match. Bringing himself on as a late substitute was clearly something Owers had been aiming for; at that stage Forest Green’s home strips featured black and white stripes but so keen was he not to wear such colours for a moment that had great personal significance, he had arranged before kick-off for Rovers to use their change kit instead.

Sunderland supporters of a certain age appreciated the gesture and opportunity to remember a former favourite, but now the focus was turning to what lay ahead. Quinn and co had lots to do and wins like this were going to be vital.

Saturday 15 July 2006

Pre-season friendly

Forest Green Rovers 0

Sunderland 3 (Lawrence 32’, Murphy 57’, Whitehead 68’)

Sunderland: Alnwick; Wright (Nosworthy), N. Collins, Caldwell (D. Collins), McCartney (D. Smith); Lawrence (Delap), Leadbitter (Bassila), Miller (Whitehead), Arca (Welsh); Elliott (Murphy), Stead (Kyle) Unused: Hartley, K. Smith.

The New Lawn, attendance 1,450

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