There you have it then, one game down into the season and we are officially a Championship club again. If Sunderland’s last trip to Bristol City is anything to go by, this weekend should be fun (probably massively anticlimactic) as we take on Nigel Pearson’s team of promising younger players, and also Chris Martin, sadly not from Coldplay.
But we’re not here to look exclusively at Bristol City players, are we? So let’s get into it, just who turned out at Ashton Gate and then made the move some 300 miles North East to Sunderland?
Left-back Martin Scott has fallen into that very specific category of former Sunderland players, particularly from the Peter Reid era, who is somewhat forgotten about when we get all misty-eyed about the squad of the late 90s. This is likely down to two things for Scott; the form of Michael Gray, and the horrendous luck with injuries which ultimately forced his early retirement.
Scott started out for local club Rotherham United back in 1986, spending four years under the watchful eyes of the Chuckle Brothers before making the move to Bristol City in 1990. To say the left-back was a regular in the team would be playing it down a bit, given he made 171 league appearances for the Robins in his four years in the South West. Scott was a penalty-taking specialist, going against all beliefs that left-backs should be nowhere near a spot kick, with the lions share of his 14 goals for City coming from 12 yards.
His form in the 94/95 season was enough to catch the eye of the increasingly flailing Mick Buxton, as Sunderland snapped up Scott for a then fairly hefty £750k in December 1994. That season proved to be a true sliding doors moment for Sunderland, as we came dangerously close to slipping into the third tier for only the second time in our history (don’t worry, we eventually got back there), with the campaign only salvaged by the arrival of Peter Reid in March 1995, steering us to a 20th place finish.
As we all know, Reid’s Sunderland took off the following year, winning promotion back to the Premier League, getting relegated again, losing the play off final and ultimately winning the First Division again, it was a boring few years for all concerned. Unfortunately for Scott however, injury problems crept in early doors in his career on Wearside, rarely allowing him to make more than 20 league appearances in any of his five seasons at the club, but he was very much part of the two promotion-winning teams. Scott also has the honour of scoring the first Premier League goal at Roker Park, a trademark penalty, against the Mags, but we won’t mention the final score.
His final appearance for red and white, and what would be the final game of his career came away to Lincoln in the FA cup, only lasting 12 minutes before injury took its toll for the last time, in December 1998. Sunderland got promoted as champions that year, Scott making 16 appearances and scoring (penalties) against Barnsley and Palace in the process.
Since retirement, Scott has found himself in a number of coaching roles, notably an eight-month stint as manager of Hartlepool United back in 2006. Further spells at Middlesbrough, Barnsley and South Shields have followed, but there’s no doubt that the section of his career which sticks out and should be remembered most fondly for were his days in red and white as part of an exciting team who we still get all nostalgic about some 25 years later.
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And now to bring things right up to present, there’s one member of our current squad who turned out for the Robins earlier in his career – everybody’s favourite g’day merchant, Bailey Wright. Aussie Wright started out his journey in English football with a seven-year stay at Preston North End, because if you’re going to do it properly, you swap the truly awful weather in Melbourne for the tropical delights of Lancashire. Wright established himself as a stalwart of Preston’s team during their four year spell in League One (can you imagine…) in the early 2010s, helping them win promotion back to the Championship via the playoffs in 2015.
An impressive first full season and a half in the second tier followed, before Lee Johnson’s Bristol City coughed up £UNDISCLOSED for the centre back. Wright’s solid form continued for the rest of the 16/17 season, and into the following year as the Robins finished 18th and 11th respectively – he was also part of the club’s swashbuckling cup run which saw them defeat big boys Watford, Stoke, Palace and Man Utd, before eventually succumbing to Man City in the semi final. However, despite his role in the team, a few niggling injuries kept Wright out of the starting XI for the majority of the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons (despite, of course, Lee Johnson waxing lyrical about him), which led to him joining Phil Parkinson’s Party Bus on loan in January 2020.
Injuries again plagued Wright during his loan spell, limiting him to only five League One appearances before the season was cut short, however, Sunderland won each of those five games without conceding a goal in the process. This was enough to convince Those Who Shall Not Be Named to open the club wallet, dig through several IOUs and…sign Bailey Wright on a free transfer, following the expiring of his contract with Bristol City.
Since signing permanently, Wright has enjoyed long, successful stays in the first team, and has a knack of returning from injury in good form. He has his detractors, but his displays at the back end of our promotion winning season last year are a major factor in our playoff campaign, with his sturdy hand and experience proving to be exactly what was needed for the team to get over the line, particularly as Callum Doyle had been sent to the footballing knackers yard.
Time will tell whether Wright has the same impact for us in the Championship, but I for one was delighted he signed his new deal in the summer, as that experience of his goes a long way. That and the number of inflatable kangaroos now visible at any Sunderland game has gone up enormously.
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