Storming to seventh
Sunderland returned to the elite of English football in 1999 after two seasons in Division One. The Black Cats had coasted to the title in the previous campaign and had learned their lessons from their painful relegation on the final day in 1997.
Peter Reid’s side played some thrilling football all campaign and finished in a fine seventh position, just outside of the European qualifying positions. They also had the top scorer of the Premier League season in their ranks with Kevin Phillips scoring 30 goals in his debut top-flight campaign.
Manager Peter Reid largely kept trust with the squad that had brought Premier League football back to Sunderland for the 1999-2000 season. Just £5.5 million was spent in the summer transfer window but some useful experience was added, especially to the defence.
The main arrival was that of Steve Bould. The central defender, a serial winner of FA Cups and league championships during his time at Arsenal, was signed in early July for £500,000 and was appointed as the new captain of the side upon his arrival. He was joined by 1996 European Championship winner Thomas Helmer from Bayern Munich on a free transfer. However, he made just two appearances all season for Reid.
The most expensive arrival was midfielder Stefan Schwarz. The Swede was a £4 million capture from Valencia and had Premier League experience on his CV too from a one-season spell with Arsenal in 1994-1995.
Sunderland made a disastrous start on the opening day at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. It wasn’t going to be an easy beginning but they lost 4-0 with future Sunderland manager Gus Poyet scoring an early contender for Goal of the Season.
Their first victory came three days later in their first-ever Premier League match at The Stadium of Light. Kevin Phillips scored twice to beat his former club and fellow Premier League promoted side Watford 2-0.
Sunderland’s season received proper lift-on towards the end of August when they travelled to St James’ Park for a local derby with Newcastle United. It was a filthy evening weather-wise but a joyous one for the visiting fans. Niall Quinn and Phillips scored second half goals as the Black Cats recovered from a goal down at the interval to win 2-1. The result sealed Ruud Gullit’s fate and ended his reign as Newcastle manager.
The win on Tyneside began an 11-match unbeaten run in the top-flight with one of the highlights coming at Pride Park where they ran riot at Derby County. Phillips scored his first Premier League treble in a 5-0 victory which still remains Sunderland’s biggest-ever Premier League victory. When his two goals downed Aston Villa 2-1 a month later, the Black Cats were sitting in impressive company in the table.
18th OCTOBER 1999 TABLE
Dishing out revenge on Chelsea
Sunderland’s unbeaten run came to an end on 20th November when they were beaten 2-0 at home by Liverpool FC. It was their first home defeat of the campaign. However, they bounced back again with another run of three successive victories. The second of those wins was probably the sweetest of the season on home soil.
Chelsea turned up at The Stadium of Light on a difficult run of form domestically that saw them down in the upper reaches of mid-table. Nevertheless, no-one could have forecasted the amazing first half performance Sunderland put in. The Phillips/Quinn axis was working a treat and both scored a brace. Sunderland supporters were dreaming at half-time and they richly deserved their 4-0 lead. They eventually won 4-1 and dished out the perfect revenge on the Blues for their opening day drubbing.
Before Christmas, Phillips had already scored 19 Premier League goals and he was leading the race for the Golden Boot. Sunderland went into Christmas still in third spot in the table and only below Leeds United and Manchester United.
Boxing Day was a horror story at Everton, folding to a 5-0 defeat in what was the club’s worst defeat of the season. This result started an 11-game sequence that ultimately saw any European hopes dashed.
Only five points were collected in this period but there were spirted draws at home to both Manchester United and Newcastle United. A 5-2 loss to Leicester City in early March forced Reid into some tactical adjustment for the run-in with the club having dropped into ninth position in the table.
Kev reaches the 30-goal mark
Despite the winless run, Phillips had still scored another six goals and it became clear that he wasn’t going to be caught by anyone in the Golden Boot battle. Only England captain Alan Shearer from Newcastle United was putting up any sort of challenge but Phillips finished well-clear.
In Sunderland’s final home game of the season, he scored the only goal of the game against West Ham United and it saw him reach a personal milestone. He became a member of the 30-goal club in a Premier League season, only becoming the third player to achieve this mark after Shearer and Andy Cole. Since then, only Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie have achieved a similar total in any Premier League season meaning Phillips is in very elite company.
A final day 3-1 loss at White Hart Lane to Tottenham Hotspur meant Sunderland missed out on overhauling Aston Villa in the league table in the final reckoning. Nevertheless, a seventh place final position had most definitely exceeded expectations from the start of the season.
Going down in 1997 had hurt everyone connected with Sunderland Football Club but they had learned lessons from that experience which made them better and more knowledgeable for the experience. The 1999-2000 season had been an enjoyable campaign for the club and most especially, for Kevin Phillips who won England international recognition for his goalscoring heroics in this campaign.
FINAL 1999-2000 TABLE – 6th to 11th
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