The Top Ten: SAFC Performances In Games We Didn't Win
Following on from this weekend's trip to the Sports Direct Arena, and the immense pride Sunderland's defensive efforts instilled in the hearts of red and whites the world over, we decided it would be best if this week's 'Top Ten' focused on Sunderland's best performances in games they didn't win.
For reasons of ease, and the fact it is difficult to truly assess performances from years long ago, this list is very much a 'modern' one. Regardless, we hope you agree, let us know your thoughts either way...
10. Liverpool 0-0 Sunderland, 17/11/2002
If one was looking for a Sunderland attacking display that unfortunately didn't merit its efforts, then this certainly wouldn't be the first place they'd look. The Wearsiders, under the stead of the baffling Howard Wilkinson by this stage, headed to Anfield and promptly "parked the bus".
And yet there was something magical about this performance - perhaps it was because it was an act of defiance in a season so lacking of such events. In goal, Austrian stopper Jurgen Macho had the game of his life; Liverpool, led by a Michael Owen who could still claim to be England's best striker, simply could not find a way past him. Wilkinson's men scarcely had a shot on goal - Tore Andre Flo and Kevin Phillips will never have spent so long in their own half - yet this result took the side to five games without a defeat.
9. Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland, FA Cup Third Round, 06/01/1996
The eventual winners of the top two divisions met at Old Trafford in January 1996 to play out an epic cup tie. The game ebbed and flowed and, for much of it, it was difficult to discern that Sunderland were the a division lower than the Red Devils.
Nicky Butt opened the scoring, suggesting a comfortable home win was on the cards. However, Peter Reid's men bounced back - first through striker Craig Russell, and then via the balding Steve Agnew. With the game edging into the final ten minutes, enigmatic Frenchman Eric Cantona salvaged a replay with a late equaliser, but Sunderland had more than shown their potential on the day. United would go onto win the replay and the FA Cup itself, as well as overcoming a certain 12-point gap in the Premier League...
8. Sunderland 1-4 Aston Villa, League Cup Third Round, 26/10/1993
Another cup game where Sunderland lost to the eventual competition winners - though how this one happened is beyond anyone's guess. The Black Cats truly battered the visiting men from the Midlands, and many left Roker Park that evening simply incredulous at the final scoreline.
Much credit can go to Villains keeper Mark Bosnich. The young Australian was in mesmerising form, and only Phil Gray could find a way through him. With the visitors sticking four past Alec Chamberlain at the other end, Sunderland bowed out in the third round, much to everyone's disbelief.
7. West Ham United 1-1 Sunderland, 24/10/1999
An obscure one, this. Sunderland, back in the top division after a two-year exodus, had started the season like a house on fire. An opening day thrashing at Chelsea was cast off without worry, and now the Black Cats found themselves travelling to Upton Park with the top of English football in sight.
When Steve Bould was dismissed after just twenty minutes, such an ascension looked hugely unlikely. Kevin Phillips remarkably put the visitors ahead just moments later, but from then on it was one-way traffic. Sunderland's resolve in defence was phenomenal; wave after wave of Hammers' attack came bounding toward them, only to be beaten off time and again - Thomas Sorensen was particularly outstanding in goal.
With the game edging towards its end, news filtered through that Everton had equalised in a 4-4 thriller at Leeds, and, if they could hold on, Sunderland would sit atop of the Premier League for the first time since its inception. Alas, it wasn't to be. Trevor Sinclair bundled the ball home in the dying seconds, and Peter Reid's men had to settle for ending the weekend in third.
6. Manchester United 0-0 Sunderland, 14/04/2006
It was ironic, but perhaps befitting of a terrible campaign, that Sunderland's best performance of the season coincided with their relegation.
The Black Cats, now under the guidance of caretaker boss Kevin Ball, arrived at Old Trafford with little left to fight for but whatever smidgen of dignity they still held - in that sense at least, they won the battle. Sir Alex Ferguson's side simply could not get past a defence that for far too long had been woefully porous; goalkeeper Kelvin Davis finally showed some of what previous manager Mick McCarthy had seen in him when he signed him almost a year earlier. Ball's men were relegated but could take pride from a performance that showed there was still some fight left on Wearside.
5. Newcastle United 1-1 Sunderland, 04/03/2012
In a fixture where they have been so bereft of it in recent years, Sunderland saw their pride restored even in spite of Newcastle's late equaliser at the Sports Direct Arena on Sunday. The Magpies were only just able to get past the Wearsiders resolute backline - despite the visitors seeing Stephane Sessegnon sent off with over half an hour left to play.
And it was this dismissal, though it significantly limited Sunderland's hopes of winning the game, that allowed the Black Cats to show just how much it meant to them. Their defending was nothing short of heroic. The back four threw themselves at everything that moved for a relentless thirty minute period, as nearly 3000 in the away end buoyed them on by out-singing the famed "Geordie Nation". Simon Mignolet's dramatic penalty save looked to have snatched a famous victory, but even Shola Ameobi's 91st minute goal couldn't completely take the shine off - this was a derby performance for the red and whites to be truly proud of.
3 & 4. Sunderland 2-2 Manchester United, 28/12/1999 and Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United, 31/01/2001
Yet another two tussles against Sir Alex Ferguson's men but, by nature, Sunderland often seem to up their game against English football's most successful club. These two winter ties were hard-fought and full of controversy, and showed Sunderland were not out of place among English football's elite for two seasons.
In the first, the Black Cats were 2-0 up within thirteen minutes. Gavin McCann and then Niall Quinn had the Stadium of Light rocking and the visitors on the back foot - a reply from future red and white supremo Roy Keane ensured the gap was halved by the by the break. The second half came and Sunderland hung on, only for a contentious free-kick to be given with four minutes remaining. The ball was swung in and dropped fortuitously to Nicky Butt, who gratefully lashed home an equaliser.
If Peter Reid and his men were angry at the referee in that game, it was nothing compared to what happened thirteen months later. Sunderland were still in the upper echelons of the league but had again embarked on a mid-season blip - yet they matched their counterparts in the opening half. A minute after the break a blatant Andy Cole handball went unpunished, and the former Newcastle man promptly struck home the game's only goal. The drama didn't end there though. Michael Gray saw red for the home side, as did Alex Rae and the aforementioned Cole. Despite ending the game with just nine men, the Black Cats nearly nicked a famous point - Kevin Phillips shot agonisingly wide in injury time, before an even later Stan Varga free-kick was saved by Fabien Barthez.
2. Manchester City 3-2 Sunderland, 11/05/1991
15,000 hearty souls followed the red and whites to the most cruel of relegation tussles at Maine Road. The Blues, fielding a certain Niall Quinn up front, were looking to secure a fifth-placed finish - if Sunderland were to avoid demotion they'd have to do it the hard way.
They certainly put up a fight. Quinn opened the scoring before Marco Gabbiadini's bullet header restored the balance, then Gary Bennett's scrambled headed goal saw the visitors 2-1 up just before the break with the away end rocking. Sadly, it wasn't to stay that way. Quinn equalised almost instantly, and then the second half's only goal came by way of City's David White. The visitors had had a host of chances before that winner came - it was a showing that did not go unappreciated by the dejected fans in the stands.
1. Charlton Athletic 4-4 Sunderland (Charlton win 7-6 on penalties), 25/05/1998
Perhaps the greatest domestic game ever seen at the old Wembley. This was a match laden with relentless, staggering desire on each side - the prize of Premier League football has never been more hotly contested.
Ninety minutes and then a further thirty proved insufficient to separate the two teams, and the lottery of penalties loomed. Michael Gray's defining miss, the first in fourteen attempts in the shootout, is now infamous on Wearside. The onlooking hordes of travelling fans were as dejected and exhausted as the players and coaching staff, but even this most cruel of defeats will live long in the memory as one of Sunderland's most valiant efforts.
But which game do you think deserves the crown of our best performance in a game we didn't win? There's a poll below, so come along and cast your vote!
Which do you feel was our best non-winning performance?
Liverpool 0-0 Sunderland, 17/11/2002 (1 vote)
Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland, 06/01/1996 (1 vote)
Sunderland 1-4 Aston Villa, 26/10/1993 (6 votes)
West Ham United 1-1 Sunderland, 24/10/1999 (0 votes)
Manchester United 0-0 Sunderland, 14/04/2006 (0 votes)
Sunderland 2-2 Manchester United, 28/12/1999 (0 votes)
Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United, 31/01/2001 (1 vote)
Manchester City 3-2 Sunderland, 11/05/1991 (3 votes)
Charlton Athletic 4-4 Sunderland, 25/05/1998 (28 votes)
40 total votes