Anybody who can recall Gary Bennett’s testimonial match between Sunderland and Rangers in 1993 might raise an eyebrow at the idea of the clubs ever taking each other on again in a Wearside ‘friendly’.
On that day, the streets around Roker Park were lively to say the least, but the two teams were able to meet north of the border later in the decade and they also found their paths crossing in more recent times whilst undertaking warm weather training on the continent.
Twelve months ago, the Lads were preparing for their Championship return and having been away for so long, they were keen to get up to speed.
Being in Portugal at the same time as the Glasgow outfit meant that they took them on in a pre-season fixture which was staged at the Estadio Municipal in Albufeira- a familiar venue that had hosted similar Sunderland fixtures in 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2019.
The city had become a popular destination for holidaying Mackems who were keen to take in some football, but with getting minutes into the players’ legs the most important thing, results at the ground had been understandably mixed.
Nevertheless, there was another healthy following in the stands and on this occasion, we started very well, with Patrick Roberts forcing former Black Cats goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin into an impressive early save.
Corry Evans then worked his way into the box before seeing his effort charged down, and after a much-needed drinks break, the team continued to put Rangers under pressure with Dennis Cirkin going close before the Lads deservedly broke the deadlock.
The opener came via Luke O’Nien, who calmly took down Alex Pritchard’s corner at the far post and fired the ball home for a hard-earned lead, but that wasn’t to be his only involvement of the trip.
The second match in Portugal was against Roma, whose manager Jose Mourinho didn’t take too kindly to our Luke’s antics and demanded that he should be sent off!
It was a bizarre incident given Mourinho’s own tendencies and frankly, who doesn’t love some fun and games from O’Nien?
Meanwhile, against Rangers, Elliot Embleton and Pritchard both had opportunities at 1-0, while at the other end, Anthony Patterson was alert and able to deny Antonio Colak. In front of the stopper was new boy Dan Ballard, whose performance had been highly encouraging, but an incident just before the second half meant nobody could build on their positive showings.
With the break nearly over, the floodlights failed and as the sun had started to set, it was now too dark to see properly.
Officials attempted to locate a caretaker or another appropriate employee, but by the time the person holding the keys to the electrical room had arrived, the players had been standing around for almost half an hour and with no fix seemingly imminent, the decision was taken to call it a day.
The episode was slightly reminiscent of a pre-season game at Middlesbrough in 2018 which was also abandoned at half time due to a freak thunderstorm. Ironically enough, it happened on the same night that we agreed a fee with Wycombe Wanderers for none other than O’Nien.
That campaign was destined to end in failure regardless of what happened on Teesside, but come 2022/2023, things were looking up.
Neither Alex Neil nor Giovanni van Bronckhorst saw out the campaign at their respective clubs, but despite Neil’s poor handling of his departure, we achieved our goal with ease.
A season that got off to an ominous start with that power cut still ended with us making our mark, and under Neil’s successor, Tony Mowbray, the future certainly looks bright.
Saturday 9 July 2022
Pre-season friendly – abandoned after forty five minutes due to floodlight falure
Sunderland 1 (O’Nien 28’)
Sunderland: Patterson, Hume, Ballard; O’Nien, Cirkin, Roberts; Evans, Neil, Pritchard, Embleton; Stewart
Subs Not Used: Carney, Richardson, Batth; Matete, Taylor, Kelly; Winchester, Johnson, Sohna; Goch, Diamond, Dajaku; Spellman