Sunderland in need of a 2006 reboot to revive fortunes

The Carabao Cup first round draw was for most a comic, farcical affair as, in a bizarre Bangkok setting, Charlton Athletic drawn twice and the EFL's much-vaunted live stream running without audible sound.

Monday, 19th June 2017, 11:53 am
Updated Monday, 19th June 2017, 3:27 pm
Roy Keane

Not a good look for an organisation whose stock is already low after the ongoing Checkatrade Trophy controversy and for failing to halt a succession of reckless owners.

For Sunderland fans, being drawn away to Bury was both underwhelming and likely to be a source of midweek travel inconvenience. It was also the starting point for a wave of 2006 nostalgia.

A 2-0 defeat at Gigg Lane under the management of Niall Quinn, a red card for Arnau Riera, who would be attached to Sunderland for three more years but never played again.

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The spectre of 2006 looms large over Sunderland.

Then, as now, they were relegated, worn down and simply not good enough to compete in the top tier.

The summer began with great uncertainty – no manager, questions over ownership swirling. Continued rumours of a consortium headed by Niall Quinn meant there were, in equal parts, hope and anxiety.

Sunderland, quite clearly, were in need of a reboot, but would they get it?

The mood on Wearside right now is much the same.

Takeovers are always a gamble, and the litany of failed clubs, some of whom were considered giants of the UK game, means that there will always be scepticism and fear when change occurs at the very top.

Still, the prospect of heading into another season with a patched-up squad, a low-key managerial appointment and continued financial woe means that the vast majority would opt for a change in ownership, given the choice.

Whether the ‘interested parties’ have as concrete an intention to obtain the club, as Drumaville did 11 years ago, remains to be seen. If they do, then the summer of 2006 will at least offer some hope that, despite Sunderland’s false start to the summer, a dramatic shift in momentum and direction can occur.

The 2006/07 season campaign was one that ended with such dizzy exhilaration that, 10 years on, the players and manager involved are held in arguably the greatest affection of any Black Cats side since Peter Reid’s reign.

Some overcame the brutal 15-point relegation the previous season, such as Nyron Nosworthy, inspirational at centre-half. Others, such as defender Kenny Cunningham and keeper Darren Ward, were low key arrivals but ones who would become dependable figures.

As is likely going to be the case with the Black Cats in August, the campaign started with a squad ill-prepared and ill-suited to the rigours of the Championship.

Roy Keane’s arrival changed everything, but he was aided by a deadline day spree that added goals, steel and creativity to his side.

Above all else, he was aided by a January transfer window that saw Jonny Evans, Danny Simpson and Carlos Edwards arrive.

Sunderland overcame their woeful start to end the season utterly rampant, a 5-0 win against Luton on the final day, where goals came from all over the pitch, an apt metaphor for a club that had been transformed from weary to dynamic, respected and feared in the space of less than a year.

To do so now, in the modern Championship, where parachute payments have made it more competitive than ever, would be a far tougher task.

In the new era of eye-wateringly rich foreign owners, the Black Cats will be competing against sides such as Sheffield Wednesday who have been investing heavily over a period of time, putting the pieces together for a promotion campaign.

The prospect of a promotion winning campaign dwindles the longer uncertainty reigns and all can see it.

Nevertheless, there is much in what happened in that that summer than can guide the Black Cats.

Then, they were at a crossroads, forced to consider where they should go.

The genius of what followed was to create an identity that fans could buy into, to rebuild the connection between stand and pitch.

Should there be new owners then that ought to be their first priority, both in the manager they appoint, the players they sign, and the way they communicate.

If there is not to be a takeover, then the onus on those at the club to turn around a sense of drift and fear will be even more important, regardless of the difficult environment in which they are currently operating.

2006 showed that, in football, things can change at a breakneck speed, that past woe can be quickly forgotten.

Football has also shown that, when decline is not halted, there is no limit to the damage that can be done.

11 years on, Sunderland will again travel to Bury on League Cup duty as a humbled Championship side.

What happens over the next month will do much to define whether they travel confident and resurgent, or anxious and world weary.

What Black Cats fans would give to experience that feeling six days after the 2-0 defeat the last time the two met, as Niall Quinn took the adulation of the crowd, an excellent West Brom side 2-0 down, Roy Keane waiting in the wings.

A turning point. Another one is needed.