With this weekend’s crucial Easter double upon us and our fellow promotion hopefuls, I thought I’d take a look back at how sweet – or not – Easter has been for the Lads since we started operating out of the Stadium of Light.
We are in our 25th year at the SoL and during that time we’ve played 34 games over the Easter period, winning 14, losing 12 and drawing eight. That’s a PPG of 1.47 which isn’t exactly promotion numbers, but to put it into context, 20 of those games were in the Premier League.
Our top flight numbers equated to a lesser PPG of 1.2, which over a season would amount to 46.8 points, which would’ve had us likely sat in a handsome 12th place. Of the 24 seasons only 13 were double fixture weekends, due to operating in the big league, but also two Easters were lost to March international breaks, and more recently Covid ending the 2019/20 season early.
So it’s a bit of a mixed bag but ultimately it hasn’t been great, with our only double win weekend coming in that Championship winning campaign under Roy Keane in 2007. It started with a victory at home to Wolves on the Saturday before a sharpish 48-hour turnaround down to St Mary’s live on Sky against Southampton.
A game which sparked to life in the second half with late screamers from Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter, leading to scenes in the away end as Premier League football was now within touching distance. That game lives long in the memory in a season that brought renewed hope to the Sunderland faithful as the Keano revolution was in full tilt.
When we think of Good Fridays, we can’t help but dwell on the Ghost of Easter Past Mike Sheron, whose brace for QPR late in the game back in 1998 cancelled out a Niall Quinn double. This was a real kick in the teeth for the bumper home crowd that night, as for 75 minutes the Lads had been seemingly cruising. Small screen and silver screen hard men Vinny Jones and Razor Ruddock featured in that QPR team that fateful night, which made for a nice midfield duel between Vinny and Bally.
On the Monday we travelled down to West Brom and again threw away three points, with ginger convict Lee Hughes equalising with the last kick of the game in front of an emptying Hawthorns. Having been at the game I remember the immense frustration at having come from 2-0 down away from home with ten men, to go 3-2 up.. to then jib it 3-3.
In 2000 when we were relatively flying in the Premier League, we went to Sheffield Wednesday and Super Kev fired two late goals at the old Kop end of Hillsborough to secure the win. But that was then ruined come Monday when the lads failed to beat Bradford at home, going down 1-0 to the now fallen Yorkshire side.
Our first double defeat came in 2001, probably owing to the fact I was at both games. After racing into an early lead at home to Tottenham, we then failed to deal with centre-half-turned-make-shift-second-half-striker Gary Doherty who scored two to flip it around 3-2. A hot Easter Monday followed where we were literally sent to Coventry, which saw us lose 1-0 via a John Hartson goal at the old Highfield Road.
Our darkest weekend came in 2006 with the dreaded 15-point season where Easter Monday saw us lose 4-1 at home to them lot up the road. We’d already been relegated by the time the Newcastle game came about, by virtue of a goalless draw at Manchester United on Good Friday. I remember feeling naively optimistic when Justin Hoyte rolled in an early goal, but then things went south very fast after that – weekend ruined.
2009 had an overarching positive as we managed to stay up on the last day, and simultaneously waved goodbye to Newcastle and Middlesbrough, who both lost when wins were needed. Boro lost at West Ham 2-1, whilst the Mags went down 1-0 to Aston Villa thanks to a Damian Duff own goal under the failed saviour Alan Shearer. But I digress, it’s all about Easter and that year we lost 2-1 to Man United thanks to a new kid on the scene called Federico Macheda. Not long after that goal the Italian striker spent the best part of a decade on the loan train, and at just 30 now plays for Panathinaikos.
As mentioned the Premier League years generally meant one game weekends. The highlight in 2010 was the bizarre game at home to Tottenham where Darren Bent missed two penalties and scored one, followed by that goal of the season volley by everyone’s favourite dad dancer, Bolo Zenden.
In 2012 we were bullied by Everton losing 4-0 with future Sunderland players Stephen Pienaar and Victor Anichebe on the score sheet for the Toffees.
Under Gus Poyet we managed to pull off the great escape in 2014, as well as a Wembley final, and one of our most valuable wins came on the Easter Saturday when goals from Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham secured a vital 2-1 win against the mighty Chelsea. What was made more remarkable about this win was that it was the first home defeat for Chelsea in the league under Jose Mourinho, ending a 77 game run.
2015 needs no introduction as the Lads dealt the Mags their fifth defeat in a row to us, on a red hot sunny bank holiday afternoon where Jermain Defoe volleyed his way into north east folklore. The city centre was absolutely bouncing all day and night, with fans spilling into the streets with scenes of jubilation, intoxication.. and sunburn! And my fame hit new levels as I made the front page of the Peterlee Star, grinning like a Cheshire cat in the sun drenched East Stand.
Our final Premier League season in 2017 was pretty repugnant and ended with just 24 points, with only a 90th minute equaliser by Fabio Borini sparing us a draw against West Ham on the Easter weekend. We then operated in the Championship, albeit for one season, and actually turned it on for the Sky cameras on the Good Friday beating Derby 4-1, with Ashley Fletcher finally showing what he was capable of. But that proved too little too late, as daft points were dropped between then and the final day, with the world witnessing on Netflix.
Probably the most relevant analysis is of our recent League One chocolate weekend performances, and it started in 2019 where we got a 2-1 win at home to Doncaster on the Friday. We then went down to Peterborough, where Max Power got what looked a late winner until a soft Matt Godden goal was conceded in injury time. We failed to get automatics, and well we all know the rest.
We were denied football, and pretty much all our civil liberties in 2020, owing to the Covid restrictions causing a premature end to the season and condemning us to a third season in tier 3, after a controversial PPG failure. Last season was relatively decent as we beat Oxford 3-1 in a feisty grudge match which saw bitter Karl Robinson become a Scouser that actually calls the Bizzies.
Then on the Monday we got a decent point, but ultimately not enough points, on rolled mud at London Road as we once again drew 1-1 with Peterborough. An inch perfect Aiden McGeady free kick rescued a point for the Lads on what was another nearly season.
I’m not particularly religious, but I do love roast lamb and chocolate.. and going to two games over a long weekend with friends and family. With the way Alex Neil has shored up the defence I can’t see the lads losing this weekend, so I’m going for a home win against Shrewsbury finished off with a battling draw down in Devon against pasty eating Plymouth.. or maybe there’s another late winner?!
Let’s hope the Lads are giving up League One for lent in favour of the Championship. Ha’way the Lads!