Roy Hodgson's Fulham side looked in grave danger of relegation following Sunderland's successful trip to the capital in 2008.. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Last week on Roker Relives we took a trip back in time to Wigan, for a visit to the JJB Stadium in the opening week of April 2005. This week we decided it'd be rude to not acknowledge a fixture that took place exactly three years on from that season-defining win against The Latics. Thus, in lieu of Fulham's visit to Wearside this weekend, we ventured to Craven Cottage, back to the days of Roy Keane, Michael Chopra, and the unheard of prospect of three consecutive Premier League victories for the men in red and white.
As the world entered into the year 2008, all was not rosy in the Sunderland garden. Having hit the ground not so much running as sprinting the previous season, Roy Keane's momentum as Sunderland manager had well and truly evaporated. As Christmas 2007 was celebrated, the Black Cats found themselves rooted in the relegation zone.
The early stages of the year brought the sporadic victories, interspersed with frequent losses and a solitary draw. A trip to Aston Villa in mid-March came on the back of four games without scoring. This battle against relegation seemed set to go down to the wire.
But Keane's side surprised many, and probably themselves, when they made the journey home from the Midlands having secured three points in a 1-0 victory. At the Stadium of Light a week after, the latest of late strikes from the rather portly Andy Reid secured a second victory in a row, with West Ham the unlucky opposition.
And so Keane and his workmanlike side made the journey to the capital in high spirits, knowing full well that another win would almost certainly confirm their Premier League status for at least another season.
That victory was achieved quite comfortably was testament to the recent belief this Sunderland side seemed to have acquired from nowhere, whilst the home side, managed by Roy Hodgson, seemed utterly devoid of confidence.
The opener came moments before the first half was called to a halt. Danny Collins, now plying his trade at Stoke, rose highest in the Fulham box to nod home an all too rare goal, and the visitors entered the famous cottage in the ascendancy.
Moments after they left it and took the field for the second forty-five, their advantage had been doubled. Michael Chopra, looked upon with scorn by many due to his neighbourly roots, promptly shut the doubters up with his second crucial goal in three games. Latching onto a Kenwyne Jones flick-on, Chopra then held his nerve to send a delightfully instinctive lob over the head of Fulham goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and the away side could now rest on a two goal cushion.
Hodgson, by now seemingly resigned to watching his side plummet out of the league, attempted one last throw of the dice. Off came two defenders, on came David Healy and Clint Dempsey. At first, no marked change occurred, and the visitors looked more likely to score a third than concede. But then Healy, against the side he would sign for three months later, curled a long-range effort into Craig Gordon's top corner, and those in the away end sat nervously once more.
They needn't have worried. Just two minutes following Healy's effort, the game was finally settled. Jones, having provided his strike partner with Sunderland's second goal, now took it upon himself to score the clincher. Daryl Murphy, much maligned by many of the Black Cats' following, showed a rare spark of brilliance, jinking his way into the Fulham area. Here he squared, leaving the man from Trinidad and Tobago with the simplest of finishes. 3-1 was how it would stay, and a rare victory in London had all but sealed Sunderland's Premier League survival.
The hosts seemed dead and buried after this game, and yet manager Hodgson managed to pull off one of the greatest of Premier League escapes. Using this defeat, somehow, as a springboard, the Cottagers went on a run that saw them survive on goal difference, and they remain in the top division to this day.
Sunderland, never ones to do things the simple way, followed this victory up with two consecutive losses. Only a late winner in a thrilling tie at home against Middlesbrough would finally ensure their safety, but this win at Fulham certainly went a long way towards it. Mr Keane would leave before the year was over, and the team that survived that first year back in the top division has all but left Wearside now.
Fulham's victory over Bolton in midweek saw them leapfrog Sunderland into the top half of the table. Despite recent worries, both sides have progressed since that day three years ago, and relegation woes do not seem quite so prominent as they once were. Perhaps Saturday will show us who has progressed the furthest.