Our forthcoming encounter with Morecambe is set to be a tense affair, with our play-off hopes resting on the final 90 minutes of the regular season.
The last time Sunderland made the journey to the Mazuma Stadium (then known as The Globe Arena), things were much more civilised.
The lads made the journey to the Lancashire coast on a cold November night in the final group game of The Checkatrade Trophy and while the game wasn’t strictly a dead rubber, we knew that barring a 3-0 defeat and a Carlisle United win over Stoke Under 21s, we were through to the next round.
On the night, we fielded a classic Checkatrade Trophy team, featuring a mix of first teamers and potential stars of tomorrow. Some of the youngsters lived up to their promise and have gone on to play first team football on Wearside, whereas some are now rumoured to be working the back shift at Vantec…or something like that anyway.
Just a year after arriving to something of a fanfare, the Dutchman was warming the bench in League One following the arrival of Jon McLaughlin. He would go on to make just one appearance in the league all season and even missed out of the play off final squad after sustaining an injury while at a theme park with his children in the run up to the game. Incredibly, Ruiter was snapped up by PSV upon his release by Sunderland but he played just once for the Dutch giants before transferring to Willem II where his contract was terminated in January.
Only months after starring for Costa Rica at the 2018 World Cup, Oviedo was turning out against titans of English football such as Rochdale and Scunthorpe United. Given the sharp decline in standard you would expect Oviedo to comfortably be the best player in League One, instead he turned in a season of average displays and quietly left for FC Copenhagen in the summer of 2019 where he still plies his trade to this day.
The former Celtic, Feyenoord and Sheffield Wednesday centre half arrived on Wearside in the summer of 2018 to add some experience to the back line. Despite featuring regularly in the first half of the season, Loovens was quite simply finished as a professional footballer and his last action in a Sunderland shirt was receiving his marching orders at Fratton Park as Sunderland lost 3-1. He retired from football in August 2019.
Another summer 2018 signing, Ozturk was best known for a 40 yard screamer for Hearts during the Edinburgh derby in October 2014. He endured a tough start to life at The Stadium of Light but a series of solid displays towards the back end of his debut season and the following season under Phil Parkinson saw him become somewhat of a fans favourite. Upon his release in 2020, he signed for Turkish First Division side, Ümraniyespor where he still plays now.
Jack Bainbridge joined the lads’ under 23 set up after playing youth football for Everton and Swansea, Bainbridge was the unfortunate captain of our 2018 crop of youngsters who won just one game across two seasons. From a personal viewpoint, his spell at Sunderland was fairly fruitful, however as he made three first team appearances in the EFL Trophy during his time at the club, of which we won all three. This wasn’t enough to earn a contract extension and since leaving in 2020 he plays for Conference North side, Southport.
Ah, Max! A popular figure amongst the Wise Men Say team, but not so popular with the wider fanbase. Power signed from recently promoted Wigan Athletic and showed plenty of early promise before two red cards in quick succession derailed his Sunderland career. Power could never be accused of not giving it 100% during his time here and clearly relished playing for a club of our size. Although there was something fitting his last act at The Stadium of Light being an effort from 30 yards out that sailed high over the bar, when we were desperate for a goal in stoppage time. Less than 12 months on, Power looks set to have the last laugh as his Wigan Athletic side still top the League One table going into the final day of the season.
For most Sunderland fans starring in two victories over the Magpies in the same season is the stuff of dreams, but it was all in a day’s work for Jake Hackett in the 2018-19 season. The centre midfielder played in wins over Notts County and Newcastle under 21’s, unfortunately this was as good as it got as he eventually joined Whitby on a permanent deal after two loan spells with the club.
O’Nien is another player who splits opinion with Sunderland fans, some see his continual presence in the starting x1 as a reason behind us remaining in League One, while others feel that if everyone had the same attitude as him we would have been promoted long ago. For what it’s worth, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle and despite his versatility and never say die attitude, his lack of technical ability means he will probably never make it any higher than the third tier of English football.
Another player still at Sunderland at the time of writing, Jack Diamond made his first start in red and white against Morecambe. Since then Diamond has become something of a frustrating figure, having shown tremendous promise during three separate loan spells with Harrogate Town but mostly struggling to hold down a regular first team place with his parent club.
Youngster Jordan Hunter arrived following his release by Liverpool in 2018 and was another debutant on the night. Hunter went close on a couple of occasions but failed to get a goal in his first ever career first team start. Following his initial two year stay on Wearside, he was actually offered an extension of the same length but he turned this down in favour of gaining more first team football with South Shields.
As was custom at the time, a late Josh Maja winner sealed the victory for Sunderland, that goal was one of 16 he scored for the lads before leaving for Bordeaux in January 2019. Maja is currently on loan with Stoke in The Championship and also briefly turned out for Fulham in the Premier League where he scored three goals in 15 games.
Patterson now finds himself firmly cemented as the club’s number one goalkeeper after a successful loan spell at Notts County and is growing in confidence with every game.
Taylor was one of those players who seemed to be at Sunderland for a number of years without making much of an impact. He made semi-regular appearances for the lads in The EFL Trophy but his only other first team outing came in a 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Gillingham. He was released in the summer of 2021 and after signing for Darlington has since found himself out on loan to South Shields, before being loaned out again to Bishop Auckland further down the pyramid.
My abiding memory of Lee Connelly was him always looking like his mam had bought him school clothes that were two sizes too big for him. Connelly was another one who seemed to remain at the club for an improbable amount of time given his lack of first team involvement. After loan spells at Alloa and South Shields he eventually signed for Queen of the South upon his release in 2021 where he has scored seven goals in 29 games so far.
If the family of Mr Leonard are reading this article I can only apologise, but he is one of the few players to be involved in a Sunderland first team fixture that I have simply never heard of. Leonard didn’t make it on the pitch against Morecambe, although he did go on to play for Sunderland…RCA in the Northern League that is. According to transfermarkt.com he now turns out for Missouri State University, therefore still achieving more in life than you or I are ever likely to.
As a Sunderland fan, simply being on the bench would have no doubt been a huge honour for the then 16 year old midfielder. After being gradually exposed to first team football over the next few years, Neil has gone on to be an exciting talent who we will be fortunate to keep a hold of should we fail to get promoted again this season.
Kokolo joined Sunderland from Monaco’s youth setup back in 2017 and was often recognised as one of the under 23’s brighter prospects. He never made a league appearance however and was signed by Middlesbrough in 2020 after turning out for Darlington on a ‘work experience loan.’ Upon leaving ‘Boro he was snapped up by Burton Albion where he has since made 15 appearances.
Australian Jacob Young joined Sunderland’s academy from Perth Glory in 2018, but was never really part of the first team fixture, although TSG 1899 Hoffenheim clearly saw something in him and he joined their reserve team in 2019. He was released earlier this year and has returned to his native Perth Glory where he has made just one appearance so far.