Mick McCarthy probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for bringing Sunderland back from the brink in 2005.
He shaped a team of bargain buys and misfits into a formidable Championship team, guiding the Lads to the title having missed out in the playoffs the year before.
Against a backdrop of fire sales and financial unrest, he moulded an excellent team, yet it was always one that looked ill-equipped to handle top-flight football. This was compounded when McCarthy was presented with a somewhat meagre transfer budget during the summer of 2005 to prepare the team for the top flight.
Bob Murray was still at the helm, although nearing the exit mentally as well as physically, and the 2005/2006 season brought a sad end to what was, in the final reckoning, a pretty decent chairmanship.
He’d overseen some of the best times in a generation; he’d moved the club to the Stadium of Light and developed the new training ground too. However, the world of football ownership was moving fast, and Sunderland had struggled to compete.
Although McCarthy’s transfer budget was meagre, he spent it horribly, with the bulk of the money being spent on Jon Stead (I was there to see him score, eventually) and Kelvin Davis.
While Stead worked hard enough, he lacked the quality to really make a difference in the top flight, and despite initially excelling at Blackburn, he’d failed to find anything approaching that level at the Stadium of Light.
Davis, meanwhile, was a disaster zone, with reviews of his form compounded by the fact that we’d let two excellent keepers in Mart Poom and Thomas Myhre depart the club. Davis was a bomb scare and his obvious nerves affected everyone, including the supporters.
Poom had inexplicably been loaned to Arsenal, with Justin Hoyte travelling the other way, while money was also spent on the dictionary definition of a ‘plodder’ (Andy Gray), and French midfielder Christian Bassila, with the despicable Alan Stubbs and Nyron Nosworthy arriving on frees, too.
Fast forward to February, and the club was in freefall. Without a win at home all season, we were anchored to the bottom of the league with just nine points from twenty four games.
After another defeat at West Ham, who were comfortably midtable despite finishing twenty one points behind us the season before, McCarthy had made comments hinting that Murray and the board were accepting of relegation from the off.
There was certainly an element of truth in that, and the fact that Murray hit back in the press, calling the insinuation ‘ludicrous’ and ‘insulting’, showed quite clearly that things weren’t well.
On this day in 2006, McCarthy was on the defensive, trying to dampen the evident issue his comments had caused.
We spoke on Tuesday. Bob Murray was having a go at the suggestions and implications and I wasn’t implying any of the things that have been said.
I have too much respect to set out with a losing mentality and my relationship with the board hasn’t been affected.
The chairman has responded to the comments made and rightly so. He was insulted by the suggestion but I didn’t suggest it, and I find the whole thing distasteful.
I have a winning mentality and if it was suggested to me otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.
I feel hurt, annoyed and angered by the last couple of days.
In the summer I planned for a season in the Premiership, and the players I brought in were to compete in the Premiership.
Unfortunately, those players simply weren’t up to it.
As it turned out, a couple of weeks earlier, McCarthy had won his last game as Sunderland boss, overseeing a 1-0 victory at the Hawthorns for our first win in fifteen games, and he was sacked a month later after yet another reverse, this time to Manchester City.
He left having amassed just ten points from twenty eight games, and it was a sad ending to an otherwise excellent spell in charge.
Of course, Kevin Ball took the reins for the final ten games, and he wasn’t able to salvage the unsalvageable. He did get five points, however, representing a third of our season’s total, and he did get Stead to score a goal, so if you’re looking for small wins, there they are.
Murray, of course, was done too.
He wanted to sell and fortunately, Niall Quinn rode into town, beginning another rollercoaster chapter in the crazy world of Sunderland Association Football Club.