Tag Archives: Sunderland

Premier League Files: Danny Dichio

Premier League Career: Queens Park Rangers (1994-1996), Sunderland (1999-2001), West Bromwich Albion (2002-2003)

Currently in Canada as Head Coach of the Toronto FC Academy Under-19 side, Danny Dichio’s best Premier League spell came at his first club Queens Park Rangers. In total, he featured in 93 matches between 1994 and 2003, scoring 19 goals for Rangers, alongside spells at Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

Born in the Hammersmith area of London to an Italian father and English mother, Dichio made his breakthrough at Loftus Road by signing professional forms in May 1993. 15 months later, he made his Premier League debut off the bench in a home game with Aston Villa. It was a memorable moment for Dichio and a game he will never forget. He scored the second goal in QPR’s 2-0 victory – the penultimate home match in-charge for Gerry Francis before his resignation.

Dichio made eight further appearances after his debut bow in the 1994-1995 season but it was the departure of Les Ferdinand in the close season to Newcastle United that gave him his major first-team breakthrough. He forged a strike partnership with Kevin Gallen and ended up with decent figures of 10 goals in 29 appearances. This included a run of six goals in four games early in the campaign, with braces in matches against Leeds United and Newcastle United.

However, QPR were relegated in 1996 to the First Division and Dichio left for pastures new, moving into Serie A for spells with Sampdoria and on-loan to Lecce. In 1998, he returned to English shores with Sunderland, who were in the First Division at the time of his arrival. His time on Wearside would be difficult. Although the Black Cats won promotion and backed this up with consecutive seventh-place finishes in the Premier League, Dichio struggled to make an impact. Only considered a back-up option to the formidable partnership of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, he would score just once across two Premier League seasons.

Next stop was West Bromwich Albion which is where Dichio spent the 2001-2002 season on-loan. He scored on his debut away at Sheffield Wednesday and in November 2001, West Brom paid Sunderland £1.25 million to make the move permanent. The Baggies came up as runners-up in the First Division, which allowed Danny to have another go at the top-flight. He seemed happier at The Hawthorns and finished as the club’s joint-top scorer in the league, netting five goals along with fellow forward Scott Dobie. However, it wasn’t enough to prevent West Brom being relegated.

He moved his family upto the Midlands to join him but was loaned out to Derby County in October 2003 and by the end of the season, was back in London playing for Millwall. Suspension ruled him out of the 2004 FA Cup final. After three further seasons at second-tier level with the Lions and Preston North End, Dichio left the English game completely in 2007 to join newly-created MLS franchise, Toronto FC.

He scored 14 goals over the course of the next three seasons, including the club’s first-ever goal in the MLS. After retirement, he went into coaching with Toronto and is looking after their academy. He combines this with an analyst role on MLS and some Premier League matches for Fox Soccer News.

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Shock Results: Sunderland 2-1 Liverpool FC (December 2002)

Goalscorers: Gavin McCann 36, Milan Baros 67, Michael Proctor 85

Teams:

Sunderland: Jurgen Macho, Phil Babb, Joachim Bjorklund, Michael Gray (Michael Proctor 81), George McCartney, Stephen Wright, Kevin Kilbane, Gavin McCann, Paul Thirlwell, Tore Andre Flo (Marcus Stewart 89), Kevin Phillips

Liverpool FC: Chris Kirkland, Jamie Carragher, Stephane Henchoz, Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan (El-Hadji Diouf 63), Dietmar Hamann (John Arne Riise 46), Steven Gerrard, Danny Murphy, Vladimir Smicer (Salif Diao 72), Milan Baros, Michael Owen

Referee: Mark Halsey, Attendance: 37,118

Having breezed through their first 12 Premier League matches undefeated in the 2002-2003 season, Liverpool FC were in the midst of a very difficult period. Gerard Houllier had seen his side suffer four defeats in their last five league matches. Nevertheless, they were expected to end this tricky patch with a victory against a Sunderland side that had mustered just three league victories all season.

Howard Wilkinson’s team had won just twice infront of their supporters since April but did claim a hard-fought point at Anfield when the sides met a month earlier. They needed to improve on a dreadful performance and result against Manchester City six days earlier, crashing to a 3-0 home defeat. They started well though with Kevin Kilbane coming close to opening the scoring after just 12 minutes, flashing a shot just wide of Chris Kirkland’s goal. Liverpool had played a UEFA Cup tie against Vitesse Arnhem a few nights earlier and certainly looked the leggier of the two teams.

The home side had gone over 500 minutes without a Premier League goal but that drought would end nine minutes before half-time. Ex-Evertonian Gavin McCann got the better of Steven Gerrard and linked up nicely with Tore Andre Flo. The nomadic Norwegian forward poked the ball back into McCann’s path. He calmly dinked his effort over Kirkland to open the scoring.

Liverpool had to improve in the second half and Houllier responded by taking off defensively-minded player Dietmar Hamann for the more attacking instincts of John Arne Riise. However, they were about to be denied constantly by Jurgen Macho. The Austrian pulled off several impressive saves to deny the likes of Milan Baros and Danny Murphy. The visitors completely bossed the start of the second half but on 58 minutes, could have fallen two goals behind.

Kevin Phillips’ header hit Jamie Carragher, whose arm was in a very unnatural position. Mark Halsey believed Carragher had blocked the attempt with his hand and gave a penalty. It was a big decision and a wrong call. Replays showed Carragher had been struck in the face by Phillips’ header. McCann took responsibility for the penalty but looked nervous and his kick was weak. Kirkland leapt off his goal-line to push his effort around the post. Liverpool felt justice had been done and finally found a way through Macho nine minutes later. Carragher threaded a beautiful ball through Sunderland’s backline and this time, Baros made no mistake to slot home a deserved equaliser. Surely, only one side was going to go on and win?

Not so. Wilkinson bought on Sunderland-born midfielder Michael Proctor with nine minutes remaining. Four minutes later, he put himself in the nightmares of many Reds supporters, scoring his first Sunderland goal just weeks after returning from a loan spell at Bradford City. He needed two attempts at it but he found the net to take the Black Cats out of the relegation zone.

This would end up being Sunderland’s last win of the season as they went down with just 19 points. Liverpool would go 11 games without victory in the Premier League and this run would ultimately cost them a top four finish come the end of the season.

Shock Results: Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland (April 2014)

Goalscorers: Samuel Eto’o 12, Connor Wickham 18, Fabio Borini 82 PEN

Teams:

Chelsea: Mark Schwarzer, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Ramires, Oscar (Demba Ba 59), Mohamed Salah (Andre Schurrle 66), Willian, Samuel Eto’o (Fernando Torres 74)

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Marcos Alonso, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Santiago Vergini, Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback, Adam Johnson (Emanuele Giaccherini 66), Sebastian Larsson (Ondrej Celustka 90), Fabio Borini, Connor Wickham (Jozy Altidore 66)

Referee: Mike Dean, Attendance: 41,210

Jose Mourinho was in his second spell as manager of Chelsea and his team were involved in a three-way scrap for the Premier League title with Liverpool FC and Manchester City. The Blues did look title favourites after a February victory at The Etihad Stadium but costly away defeats to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace had made them outsiders for the championship. They were facing a Sunderland side who were favourites for relegation despite a battling 2-2 draw at Eastlands three nights earlier. Gus Poyet’s side were also taking on Mourinho’s impregnable home record as a Premier League boss. He had never lost a home encounter and this was his 78th match.

The Blues top goalscorer, Eden Hazard was injured but Mourinho still had Samuel Eto’o available and the experienced Cameroonian gave his side the perfect start after only 12 minutes. Willian’s corner found Eto’o, who got infront of his marker, Lee Cattermole to guide in his 12th goal of the season. Considering there was so long to go and Sunderland’s recent 5-1 defeat on their last trip to the capital at Tottenham Hotspur, the omens didn’t look good for Poyet and his side.

However, they had found some energy and resolve during the midweek draw with Manchester City and Connor Wickham was finding a goalscoring touch that had deserted him for much of the campaign. After his two goals in Manchester, he added another here to bring the Black Cats level. On-loan full-back Marcos Alonso hit a shot which was too hot to handle for Mark Schwarzer. Wickham reacted quicker than Chelsea captain John Terry to score from close-range.

Chelsea had 31 attempts on-goal but without Hazard, lacked the decisive cutting edge. Vito Mannone was in terrific form, making smart saves to deny Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Willian whilst the introductions in the second half of Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba made little difference. The crucial moment occurred eight minutes from full-time. A slip from Cesar Azpilicueta allowed substitute Jozy Altidore to break down the right-hand side. Azpilicueta tracked him but brought him down.

Referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty and this prompted a furious reaction from the Chelsea dugout. Mourinho had to restrain his assistant coach Rui Faria, who was dismissed to the stands for his protests. On-loan from Liverpool FC, ex-Chelsea forward Fabio Borini calmly slotted away the spot-kick to set Sunderland up for their second victory in four seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho’s home record was gone and his fairly sarcastic media interviews afterwards suggested he didn’t take defeat well. Sunderland would win their next three matches and ultimately, remain in the Premier League off the back of shock results like this one in west London.

Great Goals: Matt Taylor – Sunderland vs. PORTSMOUTH (October 2005)

Some players are born with a gift of scoring spectacular goals. Matt Taylor certainly fits into that category. He was never one to score just tap-ins. His goals often came from distance and were often quite memorable.

Portsmouth didn’t have a lot to cheer about during the first part of the 2005-2006 season but one bright spot was this away day win at Sunderland in October 2005. They were losing at half-time but stormed back to win 4-1 and it was Taylor’s goal from 45-yards out that captured the attention. Seeing goalkeeper Kelvin Davis slightly off his line, the midfielder tried what seemed like an ambitious attempt but his shot was hit was such venom, it flew over Davis and into the net.

It was pipped to the BBC Goal of the Season award by Steven Gerrard’s heroics in the FA Cup final at Cardiff but this was one of, if not, the best goal of the 2005-2006 Premier League campaign.

Shock Results: Ipswich Town 5-0 Sunderland (December 2001)

Goalscorers: Alun Armstrong 15, 27, Thomas Gaardsoe 26, Finidi George 31, Jamie Clapham 86

Teams:

Ipswich Town: Matteo Sereni, Thomas Gaardsoe, Hermann Hreidarsson, Chris Makin, Mark Venus, Jim Magilton, Matt Holland, Finidi George, Martijn Reuser (Jamie Clapham 72), Alun Armstrong (Richard Naylor 72), Marcus Bent (Jermaine Wright 80)

Sunderland: Thomas Sorensen, Bernt Haas, Michael Gray (George McCartney 45), Emerson Thome, Julio Arca, Jason McAteer (Kevin Kilbane 45), Gavin McCann, Claudio Reyna, Darren Williams, Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn (Kevin Kyle 45)

Referee: Graham Poll, Attendance: 24,517

The 2001 calendar year had been of tale of two halves for Ipswich Town. After flourishing in the first part of the year which saw them finish a stunning fifth in the table, the Tractor Boys were finding out the tough nature of Premier League football. George Burley’s side were trapped in the bottom three ahead of this clash with Sunderland. The Black Cats sat 10th at kick-off.

Peter Reid’s men went into the match having not conceded a goal in their last 203 minutes of Premier League football but were to be breached four times in a 45 minute spell that left him fuming and the home supporters stunned.

Ipswich took the lead after 15 minutes. Forward Alun Armstrong made the most of a mishit cross by Nigerian summer signing Finidi George to open the scoring. The lead was doubled 11 minutes later. Slack marking at a Mark Venus corner allowed Thomas Gaardsoe to head home. The Dane was only playing because of an injury to Ipswich’s first-choice centre-back, Titus Bramble. It was his first goal in English football.

Sunderland’s previously strong defensive unit seemed to have disappeared for an early New Year party because they looked all over the place – unable to cope with the barrage of attacks the home side were putting together. Just 60 seconds after Gaardsoe’s goal, Darren Williams’ poor backward header saw visiting goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen dash from his goal-line. He was beaten to the aerial challenge by Armstrong. The former Newcastle player couldn’t believe his luck. He had just been gifted his second goal of the afternoon and the onslaught wasn’t finished yet.

Fine work from skipper Matt Holland and recent new arrival Marcus Bent played in Finidi George. Sorensen partially committed himself and was caught in no-man’s land as the winger punished him by lobbing the ball delightfully over the hapless Dane. Ipswich had scored four goals in a 16-minute spell which suggested their current league position of 18th was false.

Reid made a triple half-time substitution and there was a slight improvement after the break. However, there was still time for Ipswich’s own substitute, Jamie Clapham to round off the scoring with four minutes left to play.

This win was part of a run that saw George Burley’s side win seven out of eight games that saw them climb to 12th but it was a false dawn. Ipswich never recovered from a 6-0 walloping in February from Liverpool FC and were relegated on the final day, with Sunderland only just surviving in 17th. This though was Ipswich’s day and one small memory for their supporters from an underwhelming campaign.

Premier League Rewind: 4th-6th December 1999

Results: Aston Villa 0-1 Newcastle United, Bradford City 1-1 Middlesbrough, Leicester City 0-3 Arsenal, Manchester United 5-1 Everton, Southampton 0-0 Coventry City, Sunderland 4-1 Chelsea, Wimbledon 5-0 Watford, Derby County 0-1 Leeds United, Liverpool FC 4-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 West Ham United

December 1999 was the final month of the 20th century and the 1999-2000 season was a campaign that was seeing plenty of goals and a lot of drama too. On this particular weekend, fans at Premier League grounds up-and-down the country would see either no goals at all or a host of efforts hitting the back of the net.

The league leaders going into the weekend were David O’Leary young, exciting Leeds United side. Leeds had lost just one of their last 12 matches and been top of the table since early October. They travelled to Derby County looking to protect their narrow advantage over Manchester United. This was the repeat round of fixtures from the opening weekend of the season and for the second time in the campaign; it looked like Derby were going to get a goalless draw.

Then, referee Paul Alcock gave a slightly fortuitous penalty to the away side and Ian Harte dispatched the spot-kick to give the visitors a narrow 1-0 win and regain their two-point cushion at the head of the Premier League table.

Manchester United had spent a day at the summit after thumping Everton 5-1 at Old Trafford. For the second time in 1999, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four times in a match as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side turned on the style in their first game back since winning the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.

Arsenal and Sunderland kept their challenges going with convincing wins. Arsenal enjoyed a good victory at Filbert Street; a ground which had caused them trouble in previous seasons. Marc Overmars was among the scorers in the 3-0 victory, although Leicester would later get revenge by knocking Arsene Wenger’s side out of the FA Cup two months later.

Sunderland’s season had been built around a deadly strike partnership and they tore Chelsea apart at The Stadium of Light. Both Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips scored twice as they raced into a 4-0 lead before half-time. Gianluca Vialli’s side were eventually beaten 4-1 and were miles off the pace. Since beating Manchester United 5-0 in early October, Chelsea had won just one of their last seven matches, slipped to ninth in the table and were now 14 points off the pace.

Liverpool FC recovered from conceding an early goal to Niclas Alexandersson of Sheffield Wednesday, eventually overcoming the league’s bottom side 4-1. This game was notable for the first goal in a Liverpool shirt for a youngster by the name of Steven Gerrard. He would score another 185 goals in all competitions for the club he cared about the most. With just one win from 16 games, Sheffield Wednesday’s situation already looked rather desperate.

They were joined in the bottom three by Derby County and Watford. Graham Taylor’s men were on the receiving end of a 5-0 thrashing by Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. This scoreline was Wimbledon’s biggest victory in their Premier League career and had them closer to mid-table than the drop zone at this stage of the season. Their downward plight would only begin in the new millennium.

What else happened in December 1999?

  • Celebrations take place across the world to herald the millennium. In the UK, this sees the unveiling of the London Eye and the opening of the Millennium Dome.
  • After eight years in power, Boris Yeltsin resigns as President of Russia.
  • Former Beatles singer George Harrison is attacked in his home in Oxfordshire, suffering minor stab wounds.
  • After 442 years of Portuguese settlement, the sovereignty of Macau is transferred to the People’s Republic of China.
  • Tori Murden became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by rowboat alone, when she reached Guadeloupe from the Canary Islands. She had been rowing for 81 days.
  • 137 people are killed by Storm Lothar which sweeps through southern parts of Germany, France and Switzerland.
  • Torrential rains cause catastrophic floods and mudslides in coastal regions of Venezuela, killing an estimated 25,000 people and leaving 100,000 others homeless.

Iconic Moments: Beach ball Bent (October 2009)

In October 2009, Liverpool FC travelled to Sunderland, keen to recover from back-to-back losses in the UEFA Champions League and Premier League against Fiorentina and Chelsea respectively. Sunderland were playing well at home, having won three of their four home games so far and coming within an inch of a shock win at Old Trafford a fortnight earlier.

They got an unexpected helping hand in this match as early as the fifth minute. The ball reached Darren Bent who decided to try his luck in the early exchanges with the main aim of warming up Pepe Reina’s palms. His connection with the football was not great but it was enough to defeat Reina via a deflection. However, it didn’t come off the nearest defender, Glen Johnson. Instead, it had been deflected into the net off a beach ball!

Despite protestations from Liverpool players, referee Mike Jones allowed the goal to stand following some consultation with his officials. Sunderland would win 1-0 and climbed into seventh place in the table, above their unfortunate opponents.

Later, the culprit was identified as 16-year-old Liverpool supporter Callum Campbell who had thrown the beach ball onto the pitch in the moments before the teams came out. It was an unfortunate incident and goes down as one of the freakiest goals in Premier League history.

Premier League Files: Julio Arca

Premier League Career: Sunderland (2000-2003), (2005-2006), Middlesbrough (2006-2009)

He has just turned 37 and is still playing at semi-professional level for South Shields. The Argentine wing-back Julio Arca became a favourite in the north east, representing Sunderland and Middlesbrough and became an icon for both teams.

Although he operated as a wing-back, Arca was most definitely an attack-minded player and that was his main trait. Sunderland signed him in July 2000 from Argentinos Juniors on a five-year contract. Peter Reid did well to attract Arca to Wearside. Leeds United and Newcastle United were among teams interested in signing Julio but the attractive style of Reid’s teams turned out to be the deciding factor.

He’d played as a left-back for his club in Argentina but Reid converted him into a position on the left-hand side of midfield and he made an instant impact, scoring on his debut against West Ham United at The Stadium of Light. He added another two goals in his first Premier League season as Sunderland finished an excellent seventh in the table for the second successive season.

One of Arca’s main strengths was his ability to pick out a range of passes for his teammates and they missed this in 2001-2002. A series of troublesome injuries restricted his time playing and when he was on-the-field; his form of the previous campaign was evidently missing. An injury in February ended his second season on Wearside prematurely.

When Reid was sacked in October 2002, Julio slipped out of the first-team picture under the guidance of Howard Wilkinson and the Black Cats were relegated. However, he became a more prominent figure back in the Championship, earning spots in the division’s Team of the Year for two successive seasons. A key figure of Mick McCarthy’s plans, Arca was part of the squad that went up back to the Premier League as champions in 2005.

He scored a brilliantly-placed free-kick against Middlesbrough in September 2005 that helped them to their first win back in the top-flight and McCarthy’s first-ever as a Premier League manager. There wasn’t any further success though and after Sunderland’s relegation, he left the club. He stayed in the north east, joining Middlesbrough in July 2006 for £1.75 million, replacing Franck Queudrue who had moved to Fulham in the summer. He became the first signing made by new permanent Boro boss Gareth Southgate as the Teesiders beat Spanish club Espanyol to his signature.

He made his Middlesbrough debut on the opening day at Reading but broke his foot in the first half and was replaced at half-time. Out for two months, he became an important player on his return, playing in an unfamiliar central midfield role for Southgate and starring. He scored his first goal for the club against Charlton Athletic in December 2006. Arca would remain with the club for seven seasons, sticking with them even after their demise from the top-flight in 2009. He was released in 2013 and retired from professional football.

However, his love for the game continues. He has been playing for semi-professional side South Shields and also done some coaching with the youngsters back at Sunderland.

Memorable Matches: Chelsea 6-2 Sunderland (March 1997)

Goalscorers: Gianfranco Zola 38, Frank Sinclair 43, Dan Petrescu 51, Paul Stewart 58, Alex Rae 60, Mark Hughes 78, 89, Roberto Di Matteo 90

Teams:

Chelsea: Frode Grodas, Steve Clarke, Scott Minto, Andy Myers (Paul Parker 66), Frank Sinclair, Dan Petrescu, Craig Burley, Roberto Di Matteo, Dennis Wise, Mark Hughes (Gianluca Vialli 84), Gianfranco Zola

Sunderland: Lionel Perez, Michael Gray, Gareth Hall (Alex Rae 46), Dariusz Kubicki, Richard Ord, Andy Melville, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Ball, Michael Bridges (Lee Howey 79), David Kelly, John Mullin (Paul Stewart 46)

Referee: Gary Willard, Attendance: 22,762

Ruud Gullit was enjoying his first season in management in 1996-1997 and it would end in glory as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Two months earlier, his side took on another side from the north east in Sunderland, who were scrapping for their lives in their maiden Premier League campaign.

Chelsea had been frustratingly inconsistent in the league all season. Despite having beaten Liverpool FC and Manchester United, they’d also lost to Nottingham Forest and Derby County. Sunderland had beaten them 3-0 at Roker Park in the reverse fixture in December 1996. The fans plus Sky Sports Super Sunday viewers would be treated to a feast of goals at Stamford Bridge.

Both sides had chances in the first 30 minutes. Frode Grodas, back in goal for Chelsea had to push a John Mullin shot wide, whilst Lionel Perez denied Roberto Di Matteo at the other end. Seven minutes before the interval, the Blues’ galaxy of stars clicked into gear with the opening goal. Dan Petrescu broke into the box and his cross found Gianfranco Zola who powered a shot into the net for his 10th of the season since joining from Parma in November.

Five minutes later, Frank Sinclair made it 2-0. The centre-back ghosted into the box as the Sunderland defence went AWOL and headed past Perez at the far post. Peter Reid tried to change the direction of the match by making a double substitution at half-time, bringing on Paul Stewart and Alex Rae. However, Sunderland fell further behind on 51 minutes. Perez made a smart save from Zola but his efforts were in vain as the excellent Petrescu guided in the rebound. The game looked over as a contest. However, a deficiency at the back almost cost them the match.

The Black Cats suddenly rallied with two quick goals of their own. First, Grodas was beaten in an aerial challenge and Stewart had a free header into the unguarded net to make it 3-1. Then, another mix-up in the backline allowed the other substitute Rae to strike home from close-range and set-up an unexpected grandstand finish to proceedings.

Chelsea needed a fourth goal to regain their security on the game and it came with 12 minutes left. Mark Hughes cashed in on a mix-up between David Kelly and Andy Melville, breaking through to calmly beat Perez. As Sunderland piled further players forward, they were brutally exposed in the dying embers. Substitute Gianluca Vialli set-up the experienced Hughes to make it 5-2 and there was still time for Di Matteo to complete the scoring on another counter-attack in stoppage-time.

Chelsea would finish the campaign in sixth. Despite being three points above the drop zone after this loss, Sunderland collected just six more points and were relegated on the final day of the season.

Premier League Files: Gary Breen

Premier League Career: Coventry City (1997-2001), West Ham United (2002-2003), Sunderland (2003-2006)

Centre-back Gary Breen spent the whole of his footballing career playing in England. However, his story could have taken a totally different direction if he’d made the move to Inter Milan in 2002. The Serie A giants were seriously interested in Breen’s services after a stellar 2002 World Cup finals for the Republic of Ireland. Ultimately, three Premier League relegations on his CV might indicate his career wasn’t the best but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Breen was often a shining light in teams that would always struggle against survival in the top-flight.

Breen started his professional career at Charlton Athletic but never made the first-team grade with the Addicks. He would then join Maidstone United in 1991 and then followed a season with them with spells at Gillingham and Birmingham City. Gordon Strachan was impressed by his mature displays at Birmingham and it was the Sky Blues who would bring Gary into the top-flight, paying Birmingham £2.5 million. There was an embarrassing own goal in one of his first appearances for the Midlands side at Old Trafford but Breen settled down quickly and would form a strong partnership at the centre of the Coventry defence alongside Richard Shaw.

He would spend five seasons at Highfield Road and won Coventry’s Player of the Year in 2001, despite their relegation from the Premier League. Still one of the club’s top-earners in Division One, he was released to balance the books before the 2002 World Cup. His dependable performances were noted by several club teams. Breen played every single minute and even scored in the Republic of Ireland’s 3-0 victory over Saudi Arabia that sealed their place in the knockout stages. No fewer than nine clubs made offers for the free agent and it was Inter Milan who led the queue. Heartbreak though would follow for Breen. He admitted in a 2016 interview: “Prior to the Spain game, I had agreed a deal with Inter Milan. When we got back to Dublin, I flew out to Milan, I had the medical, failed the medical, and I still haven’t got over it.”

A knee injury was to blame and perhaps Inter were sensing what would ultimately happen in 2002-2003 to Breen. He was snapped up by West Ham United but injuries restricted him to just 18 appearances in all competitions. Glenn Roeder’s side were relegated and he became a free agent again.

Having knowledge of his tactically astute ways from the Republic of Ireland days, Mick McCarthy wasted no time in signing Breen for his Sunderland side in the summer of 2003 and made him club captain. He made over 100 appearances for the Black Cats’ and helped them win promotion in 2005 but that was followed by being part of a team that managed just 15 points in 2005-2006 and instant relegation back from the top-flight. Breen was signed again by McCarthy at Wolverhampton Wanderers but this time, their relationship turned sour. He left abruptly in 2008 after an altercation with McCarthy. He would finish his playing career at Barnet in 2010.

Gary Breen was a dependable defender for all the teams he played for. However, his story could have taken a completely different turn if only he’d passed that medical at the San Siro.

Shock Results: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City (November 2013)

Goalscorer: Phil Bardsley 21

Teams:

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Phil Bardsley, Ondrej Celustka, Jack Colback, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sebastian Larsson, Emanuele Giaccherini (Craig Gardner 72), Adam Johnson (Fabio Borini 87), Steven Fletcher (Jozy Altidore 77)

Manchester City: Costel Pantilimon, Martin Demichelis, Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov, Micah Richards (Pablo Zabaleta 71), Javi Garcia (Jesus Navas 45), James Milner, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo (Edin Dzeko 71)

Referee: Mike Dean, Attendance: 40,137

Most of the Premier League superpowers have a bogey ground that they always feared visiting. If you ask Arsenal supporters, it is usually the Britannia/bet365 Stadium at Stoke. Manchester United fans will remember some nightmare days at The Dell whilst Liverpool FC never seemed to do well away at The Riverside Stadium.

For Manchester City, it was definitely The Stadium of Light. They’d lost their last three visits to Wearside and all by a scoreline of 1-0. Nevertheless, the Black Cats had won just once all season by the time Manuel Pellegrini’s side visited in November 2013. Gus Poyet had just taken over and already presided over a heavy defeat to Swansea City and a loss to Hull City that saw his team reduced to nine men last time out. City were scoring for fun at The Etihad Stadium but finding their travels a bit trickier. They’d already been beaten at Cardiff, Aston Villa and Chelsea before this game.

Poyet gave a first Premier League start to Wes Brown in 22 months. The former Manchester United defender had been beset by injuries and also been virtually ignored by former manager Paolo di Canio. Brown immediately slotted into the centre-back role and kept the formidable duo of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero restricted to very speculative efforts from distance.

City made a slow start and could have conceded early on. Steven Fletcher headed wide after being picked out in the middle by Sebastian Larsson and in the 21st minute, they were punished for their tardiness.

Brown played a long ball forward which was met by full-back Phil Bardsley. Bardsley then kept his composure in an unfamiliar position to beat Costel Pantilimon, still in the team instead of the recently dropped Joe Hart. The Citizens’ were unhappy with referee Mike Dean, feeling James Milner had been fouled in the build-up by the goalscorer but their appeals fell on deaf ears.

Pellegrini’s side woke from their slumber and began to dominate possession, ending with figures of 63%. Despite that, chances were still arriving at a premium and that was down to some great defending from Sunderland’s backline. Half-time substitute Jesus Navas caused more problems in the second half. He had two goal-bound efforts blocked in quick succession before Vito Mannone made a couple of decent saves to deny Aguero and Edin Dzeko.

Despite extensive pressure in the closing stages, the Black Cats held on for a wonderful victory and a fourth successive 1-0 triumph over City.

Pellegrini’s side ended the day six points off top spot and down in eighth place in the table but would lose just two more matches in the Premier League season to win their second title in three years. Sunderland climbed off the bottom of the table with this victory and would avoid relegation narrowly once again – helped by unlikely victories like this one.

Great Goals: Gus Poyet – CHELSEA vs. Sunderland (August 1999)

Gus Poyet would become a Premier League manager with Sunderland from October 2013 to March 2015. He scored one of his finest goals against the Black Cats from his Chelsea days.

The Uruguayan was something of a cult hero during his four seasons at Stamford Bridge and came up with a glut of crucial goals, including the one to defeat the mighty Real Madrid in the 1998 UEFA Super Cup final.

On the opening weekend of the 1999-2000 campaign, the Blues welcomed Sunderland to their lair and dismissed their opponents 4-0. Poyet scored the goal of the match. Gianfranco Zola received possession from a long ball and as the Italian took it under control and assessed his options, Poyet made a run from midfield into the box.

He got between the two Sunderland defenders and met Zola’s pass with brilliant timing. His volley left Thomas Sorensen without a hope of saving it. Poyet scored 49 goals in his Chelsea career. This was quite probably his best.