Another international break has come to an end, and for once, this one might have been a welcome one, as we could see a good few of our walking wounded return to fitness, just in time for our trip to Stoke City, current home of former cover star of Wise Men Say’s promotion-celebrating magazine, Alex Neil (enquire within).
Neil’s not having a good time, which is, at the very least on surface level, incredibly funny. However, if there’s one type of team that Alex Neil is an expert at picking off, it’s one that tries to play creative, attacking football, as we found out in abundance when we welcomed him back to the Stadium of Light last season and the chips were thoroughly urinated on.
So the added bite in this game is that if we win, there’s a chance Neil gets the boot, which, regardless of your opinion on him and how he left Sunderland, is again, very funny. But this is a fixture which has thrown many familiar faces against each other over the last 20 years or so. Whitehead, Lawrence, Collins, Higginbotham, Delap, Bardsley, Jones, Batth, but now, should he overcome an injury, we could come up against someone a little more close to home.
It feels wrong having to write out the fact that (loan spells aside) Lyndon Gooch ever played for a club other than Sunderland. For me, he’s up there with Luke O’Nien as being the Mr Sunderland figure of the last decade, arguably more so, owing to the fact that he started his journey in the first team in our final death throes as a Premier League outfit; he was here throughout the fall, fall, failure and eventually, the first steps in the rise of Sunderland AFC.
Californian-born Gooch made the move over to Sunderland’ academy way back in 2005, aged just 10, bouncing back and forth from the states to Wearside during his school holidays, before signing a scholarship at the age of 16.
After working his way through the age groups, Gooch got his first taste of professional football with a loan spell to the Conference with Gateshead in February 2015, scoring his first career goal in a 3-1 win against Wrexham.
At the start of the 15/16 season, Gooch earned his Sunderland debut, coming off the bench of Adam Matthews in one of the most bizarre games ever to take place at the Stadium of Light, as we beat Exeter 6-3 in the League Cup. A further loan spell followed that season, with a 10-game stint in League One with Doncaster Rovers, and, more impressively, an international debut at the end of the season as the USA fell to a 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica, with Gooch replacing Christian Pulisic in the 70th minute.
Gooch’s breakthrough season came in 16/17, so he’s possibly the only person in Sunderland to have even a slightly fond memory of that year. A Premier League debut came with a surprise start away to Manchester City, complete with newly-appointed Pep Guardiola, which the Lads lost owing to an unlucky 87th minute Paddy McNair own goal.
Gooch would go on to make 10 appearances in our disastrous, David Moyes-fuelled relegation from the top flight and from that point on, would become a mainstay of the Sunderland squad till the day he left.
Much like the Premier League relegation season before it, our 17/18 Championship season afforded more playing time to Gooch, but of course brought us yet more suffering with a further flop down the football league as we contrived to get relegated again. Gooch did however grab his first goals for the club, the initial coming in a 2-1 win at Carlisle in the League Cup, with his first in the league in a 2-1 loss at home to Cardiff. Down we went.
In comes Donald, Methven and Jack Ross, League One has arrived in Sunderland and we’re desperately hoping that with new ownership, a new dawn is before us. So when we’re stuck at 1-1 at home to Charlton on our first taste of third division football in almost 30 years, with the clock ticking down the dying seconds of the game, who better to be on the end of a deep cross into the box, meeting the ball with a dramatic diving header than the academy graduate who had seen the whole thing unravel around him?
Gooch’s winning goal that day naturally proved to be one of the few genuinely enjoyable moments of League One overall, but I can think of no one more deserving of giving us that feeling that maybe we were going to be alright.
A key player in that 18/19 League One season, Gooch went on to score seven times in 47 appearances in all competitions, playing in almost every position available to him at any given time, although he ultimately missed out in our play-off final defeat to Charlton at Wembley.
As you’d expect, adopted Mackem Gooch took that personally, and hit some impressive form in the 19/20 season, despite having the major handicap of playing under Phil Parkinson for the most of it. Before the season was ended for everybody except Wycombe “we couldn’t possibly afford to play any more games” Wanderers, Gooch had scored 10 times in 33 games, including an absolute blinder in a 1-0 win away to MK Dons. But, curtailed the season was, and still we found ourselves stuck in the third division.
On to the 20/21 season, the weirdest season in all of football. No fans, iFollow and Lee Johnson. Another heavy load for Gooch, as he managed 46 appearances all in (in hindsight, not enough is said of Gooch’s long-run of availability with us), as the Lads ultimately fell to a play-off semi final defeat to Lincoln City. A highlight, however, at least came as we won the Pizza Trophy in a Wembley filled only with a handful of journalists, and fittingly, the man to deliver Sunderland’s first winning goal at Wembley for nearly 50 years was again, our academy graduate, Lynden Gooch.
Our final season in League One was a strange one for Gooch, as he again found himself making over 40 appearances, but this time the majority of it from a new role as a right-back/wing-back. Out went Johnson, in came Alex Neil, but Gooch’s gritty, spiky determination remained (no goals, but 10 bookings to prove it) and he was a key member of the team to finally get us out of that hellscape.
No one will have enjoyed the celebrations on the Wembley pitch more than Gooch after our play-off win against Wycombe. With tears in his eyes, and his contract up at the end of the season, it could have been the perfect time to bow out.
But of course, he signed a new two-year deal and was back with the squad for our return to the Championship. Another managerial change, out went Neil (boo) in came Tony Mowbray, and still Gooch found himself largely used as a full-back for the majority of the season, until he had to be used as an emergency left-back and even centre-half owing to an injury crisis at the end of the campaign. He did however, score an incredible chip away to Sheffield United, in what would be his last for the club.
Gooch started the 23/24 season still with Sunderland, but with a cloud hanging over him, as he entered the final year of his contract, and the emergence of Trai Hume meant his place in the team wasn’t guaranteed. He came off the bench in our opening day defeat to Ipswich, and his final game for the club was a five-minute cameo as a sub in the 2-1 win over Rotherham at the Stadium of Light in August. As the final days of the transfer window ticked on, in came Stoke City and out went Lynden Gooch, ending an 18 year association with the club.
Now fully converted to being a full-back (wears the number 2 at Stoke, weird), Gooch has been solid in his new home, although Stoke themselves have been poor so far. Injury may prevent him making a first outing against us this weekend, which is probably for the best, as it’ll feel wrong seeing him wear the wrong red and white stripes.
Context is everything in football, but Lynden Gooch should go down as a hero in Sunderland’s history books for the commitment, dedication and passion he gave the club. He may have moved on, but he himself has admitted that Sunderland is his club. I miss the little radgy.
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