Here it is, boys and girls, our first outing against a team just relegated from the Premier League. The first time we’ll have come up against a team flooded with Premier League quality players (minus cup games) in a depressingly long time. However, it’s Watford, so no one’s actually sure who plays for them, how many nationalities are in their squad or who the manager is at any given point, so that adds a bit of spice.
But we’re not here to look at the current players, mainly because between the two squads, only Luke O’Nien has represented both, and his Watford career lasted roughly three minutes. No, we’re here to look back into what will forever be known as the Pre Tony Years.
Way back in 1994, Watford signed a diminutive striker from Baldock Town for the princely fee of £10k. He found himself a regular place in the Hornets squad immediately until a serious foot ligament injury kept him out for large chunks of the 95/96 and 96/97 seasons, during which time Watford had been relegated from the old Division One. Upon his return, he managed four goals in 16 games before Sunderland came calling. An initial £325k was handed over and a Wearside legend was born.
Super Kevin Phillips had arrived at the Stadium of Light.
Phillips joined a Sunderland team that’d just been relegated from the Premier League and was tasked with forming a partnership with Niall Quinn, and things went terribly… for everyone but Sunderland.
In his first season in red and white, Phillips scored 29 times in 43 league games as we only missed out on promotion thanks to that trip to Wembley against Charlton. What makes that ridiculous is that from the first 12 games, he’d only scored four times; for the remainder of the season, there were only 10 games in which he played that he didn’t also find the back of the net. His second season was arguably even better, as despite missing nearly 4 months with a broken toe, he still managed 23 goals in 26 league games earning himself his first England cap along the way as Peter Reid’s team won the division by thousands in the 98/99 season.
Then there’s the Premier League season, pundits and fans alike assuming Super Kev couldn’t bring his formidable form with him. 36 Premier League game, 30 Premier League goals, top scorer, European Golden Boot winner. The man was incredible. Even when things started to fall apart for Sunderland, Phillips was still streets ahead of the rest, with the only time he failed to reach double figures being his final season, as the club plummeted out of the top flight with a record points low of 19 – the fact that he managed to get six goals probably should’ve earned him keys to the city.
We won’t go too much into detail about the rest of his career, mainly because he went on until he was 83, but when he finally left Sunderland in 2003, following that relegation, he took in largely successful stays at Southampton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester, scoring another 124 league goals on the way.
Since retiring, Super Kev has been on a coaching career which has seen him at Leicester, Derby, Stoke and now as manager of South Shields back in the North East, as well as being permanently linked to the Sunderland job each and every time a manager is sacked.
During his career Phillips won: promotion to the Premier League five times, each time with a different club; the League Cup with Birmingham, eight England Caps, the European Golden Boot and Premier League Player of the Year, not to mention that goal in the rain up the road. He remains Sunderland’s top post-war goal scorer, and will probably remain so for quite some time.
A true club legend.
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From sublime to the ridiculous. Normally I wouldn’t pick a player who didn’t’ actually kick a ball for the opposition, but when else are we going to get to shine a light on this absolute charlatan?
Gabon international midfielder Didier Ndong was a key cog in David Moyes’ mission to destabilise and dismantle all good vibes on Wearside left by Sam Allardyce in the summer of 2016. Moyes shelled out £13.6m on Ndong, making him our record signing in the process on transfer deadline day, the same infamous day where a wildly more talented Yann M’Vila was sat in a London airport, begging the club to sign him FOR LESS MONEY. Instead, we gave M’Vila a piece of paper saying “we’ll sign you in January, for realsies” whilst Moyes had his fingers crossed behind his back and on we went with our silly-haired new midfielder.
Now, physically and technically, you could see there was something about Ndong, he was athletic, had a great engine on him and for all it seems, didn’t appear to be an utter disaster initially. He even scored a cracker in the hilarious 4-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace (then managed by the already ex-England boss, Big Sam) at Selhurst Park. However, the second it looked like our slide to relegation was an inevitability, the desire completely left Ndong and he was frequently shown up by the Everton rogues gallery of Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar, despite their numerous deficiencies.
Upon relegation, we unsurprisingly couldn’t shift Ndong from his 5 year contract and he managed to make 18 league appearances for us under Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman as things went from awful to hilariously awful. Ndong’s final appearance for Sunderland came in an away trip to Cardiff on January 13th 2018, where we got thumped 4-0, and he got sent off just after half time (we were only 1-0 down at that point).
Owing mainly to Watford’s utterly unhinged manner of running a football club, 18 days later Ndong found himself on loan with the Hornets, back in the Premier League, and they’d even thrown in a clause that would’ve allowed them to sign him permanently. In the four months the midfielder spent on loan, he made precisely zero appearances in any competitions and only made the bench three times. Watford made a rare logical decision in not taking up the permanent signing and back to Sunderland he went.
Or rather, he was supposed to go back to Sunderland. Instead, Ndong decided that he didn’t fancy the League One party, went AWOL and frequently posted pictures on himself on the murkiest holiday in the sun imaginable to Instagram. Incredible moves to Fiorentina, Benfica and Torino all broke down due to his wage demands, and ultimately he was sacked by the club in October 2018, following fellow absentee knacker Papy Djilobodji.
Since his Sunderland debacle finished, Ndong found himself back in France, first with Guingamp, who were relegated bottom of Ligue 1 and then to Dijon…who were also relegated, bottom of Ligue 1. Ndong was then sent out on loan to Turkey with Yeni Malatyaspor for the 21/22 season, and went on to be relegated, having finished bottom of the Super Lig.
So, at the age of only 28, in a career of 11 professional seasons, Didier Ndong has been relegated five times, finishing dead last on each occasion. Lovely, lovely stuff.
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