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Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland

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On This Day (19th September 1998): Seventh heaven for Sunderland against Oxford!

It was a mid-autumn goal fest at the Stadium of Light as Malcolm Shotton’s team were put to the sword in a red and white demolition job twenty five years ago!

Photo by Tom Honan/EMPICS via Getty Images

In many ways, the way Peter Reid’s Sunderland side responded to our Wembley heartbreak in 1998 is somewhat understated.

After losing the Division One playoff final in such dramatic circumstances, you could’ve understood if there’d been a dip in performances during the following season.

Soccer - Friendly - Manchester City v Sunderland Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

However, what emerged was a team who put their disappointment behind them and used it as motivation to prove that they were worthy of a place in England’s top flight.

A squad filled with heroes and characters such as Michael Gray, Kevin Ball, Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips led the club to the league title with 105 points.

Early in the season, Reid’s team laid down the gauntlet with an unbeaten run that lasted until November, and one of the games that stands out from this period is the 7-0 drubbing of Oxford that took place on this day twenty five years ago.

Despite a successful start to the season, anxiety levels increased ahead of the game when it was revealed that Phillips and Quinn (though on the bench) would be missing for this fixture, the former with a long-term injury which made fans apprehensive.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Sunderland Training Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

The two strikers had largely been imperious but their absence provided an opportunity for Michael Bridges and Danny Dichio to prove their worth with rare starts.

Both men were in a determined mood and within three minutes, Bridges had given us the lead.

After Nicky Summerbee lost possession on the edge of Oxford’s box, the ball broke to Darren Williams, who clipped it across the face of goal to find Bridges, who scored easily from close range.

From this moment on, we didn’t look back.

Three minutes later, Gray found the net with a free kick from the edge of the box, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and finishing smartly in the bottom corner. Along with the keeper - who seemed to be all over the place - questions must be asked about Gray’s peroxide blonde hairstyle from this game, which looked horrendous!

The visitors responded after the concession of two early goals and it took some good goalkeeping from Thomas Sorensen to ensure we didn’t concede from Andy Thomson.

Soccer - Friendly - Manchester City v Sunderland Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Two minutes before half time, the third goal arrived.

Dichio and Summerbee combined well to set up Allan Johnston, who was felled by Robinson inside the area, and Dichio successfully converted the spot kick to give us a rather unassailable 3-0 interval lead.

By the sixtieth minute, we’d made it 5-0, with Oxford looking like a team who were desperate for the final whistle.

After some good combination play with Dichio, goals from Alex Rae and Bridges had the game wrapped up. By this stage, we were playing ‘champagne football’ in a match that was akin to shooting practice in training.

It was a great day for Dichio and Rae, who scored a rare brace, and his second goal capped off a wonderful day at the office for everyone associated with the club.

Johnston and Quinn combined well, and when the ball was played to Bridges, he turned superbly before playing a perfectly-weighted pass to Rae, who made no mistake from eight yards to become the third Sunderland player of the afternoon to claim a brace.

This was a memorable day for us- one of many at the Stadium of Light in what would become a historic season.

From very early in the campaign, you could sense that this team was on a mission to reach the Premier League, and nothing was going to stand in our way.


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