Kieran Richardson’s start to his Sunderland career was a slow burner to say the least.
After joining from Manchester United in the summer of 2007, the midfielder suffered a painful spinal injury that left him sidelined for three months after only appearing three times for his new club.
Undoubtedly, Richardson’s injury was enormous blow to Roy Keane who spent big money on the former Red Devil to be one his match-winners.
In his absence, Sunderland certainly did struggle where they only won three games in the league before his return off the bench against his former club in a 4-0 defeat on Boxing Day.
It took until late December for fans to start to see a a proper glimpse of one of their big summer signings when Richardson played a starring role in a 3-1 against Bolton Wanderers where he scored one and set up another in a vital win.
That performance was a boost for both player and club who needed all hands on deck given their early season struggles in the league.
Weeks later, Richardson would be the hero again in a win against Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth who boasted one of the best away records in the Premier League that season.
In the build up to this game, much of the talk surrounding it was the future of Redknapp after he spent a day having talks with our local rivals Newcastle United about their managerial vacancy after Sam Allardyce was sacked.
The day before the game, Redknapp stated his intention to stay and took charge of his side for the game despite all the talk and distractions. Along with this, Portsmouth were without many of their first team players who were playing in African Cup of Nations leaving them disjointed and depleted.
Keane’s men smelt blood and despite a tetchy and nervy start, they roared into life in the final fifteen minutes of the first half with their now fit again star beginning to show his worth.
Then it all changed as Sol Campbell stopped to claim a foul after being held off by Jones, leaving the striker free to cut back a pass for Richardson to finish sublimely while under pressure.
Eleven minutes later, Richardson pulled rank on Daryl Murphy to claim possession before embarking on a strong, diagonal run past Hreidarsson and cracking a right-foot shot back into the left corner.
The difference a bit of class brings as Sunderland’s two biggest signings of the summer combined for the first goal whilst Murphy’s decent hold up play gave Richardson the opportunity to double his lead.
The game died as a competitive match once the second goal went in as Portsmouth seemed to struggle with so many changes to their starting eleven.
Sunderland looked sharp. It was clear once that first goal in that the teams - particularly - Richardson’s confidence was up where he almost bagged a hat-trick in the second half with a shot from long range.
Back came Sunderland, only the bar preventing Richardson claiming a fantastic third goal, as his rasping drive smacked back into play off the woodwork.
The damage was done in that eleven minute spell where Richardson repaid some of the £5.5 million fee that the club paid for him. The bit of class Richardson had was missed in his absence and greatly appreciated upon his return,
Roy Keane echoed these sentiments post match where he expressed his delight with the performance and win.
The players responded well and it was a very good win and an excellent performance.
If the players keep playing with that quality, desire and determination then hopefully we will have a good season.
We were definitely the better team and we could have scored one or two more goals. The players handled the pressure of situation brilliantly and we’re delighted with them.
We have missed Kieran Richardson, and he was excellent the way he burst through and scored goals. We are delighted with him - and also with his defensive contribution.
Sunderland: Gordon, Whitehead, Nosworthy, Evans (McShane 77), Collins, Stokes (Leadbitter 73), Miller, Yorke, Richardson, Jones (O’Donovan 83), Murphy.
Subs Not Used: Fulop, Cole.
Booked: Collins, Richardson, Yorke.
Goals: Richardson 33, 44.
Portsmouth: James, Pamarot, Distin (Traore 90), Campbell, Hreidarsson, Mwaruwari, Mvuemba (Songo’o 65), Pedro Mendes, Hughes, Kranjcar, Nugent.
Subs Not Used: Begovic, Lauren, Wilson.
Booked: Pedro Mendes.