As Sunderland continue their tour of teams around the Lancashire/Greater Manchester area, this Tuesday presents us with a trip to Blackburn that has a little more spice to it than we’d normally expect, thanks entirely to our lovely manager having spent four and a half years there before stepping into the Stadium of Light dugout.
Blackburn are now a stable Championship name again, thanks to Tony Mowbray’s work which has now been taken on by former Danish legend Jon Dahl Tomasson, which sounds very much like a Football Manager appointment. However, this fixture presents us with a “proper” team, meaning we’ve had absolutely loads of players shared between us (and yet another one to have both suffered varying degrees of Danny Graham related success). So, for today, we’re going to look at someone from the present, and a piece of Classic Sunderlanding from the 1990s.
Captain Fantastic himself. It’s already become something of a worn out joke, but can you imagine, even just one year ago, seeing Corry Evans’ name missing from the teamsheet and feeling genuinely dismayed? The turnaround in Evans’ Sunderland fortunes has been nothing short of staggering. Aside from a very solid first couple of appearances in red and white, the early months of Evans’ Wearside career looked to be stuck in an inescapable nosedive of anonymous performances bookended by injuries which suspiciously only ever left him fit enough to play for Northern Ireland.
Fast forward to the second half of the 21/22 season and, freed from the madness of Lee Johnson’s tactical masterstroke of “everyone needs to play until they can no longer bend their knees” and the man who quietly drove Sunderland toward promotion was none other than our captain, Corry Evans. He has become the epitome of the footballing metronome you see in so many successful teams; he keeps the ball ticking over, but marshals his teammates well and never shirks a tasty challenge to boot. Sunderland are a better team with Evans in it these days, and his steady hand has provided a platform for young talent such as Dan Neil to be able to express themselves with ease, even after making the step up in divisions.
We signed Evans from Blackburn after his Rovers contract expired in summer 2021, and it’s safe to say that his playing style hasn’t really differed from his eight years at Ewood. His battling performances however, resulted in a series of niggling injuries over his long tenure, but the biscuit was well and truly taken in January 2020, when in a nasty collision in a Lancashire derby with Preston left the Northern Irishman with a fractured skull and a shattered eyesocket; the injury was likened by doctors to those associated with “car crashes, falling off scaffolding, or being hit in the face with a hammer”.
Almost five months later, Evans was able to return to action and helped Blackburn continue to establish themselves in the midtable of the Championship again, because he is, of course, hard as nails. Evans was a favourite of Mowbray’s at Blackburn, and the manager recently admitted he only let the midfielder leave owing to the abundance of young talent the club had brought through, so hopefully his reunion with Evans continues as happily as it has done so far, as he’ll be ready for selection again for his return to Ewood following the suspension that kept him out of the Wigan game.
From the surprisingly sublime to the truly ridiculous. One that the Da’s amongst us will remember more than any, but Dominic Matteo was the source of one of the more bizarre chapters of Sunderland’s history back in 1995. Then only aged 20, the promising Scottish defender was loaned in from Liverpool in a bid to get some first team experience.
Matteo’s entire Sunderland career comprised of a single appearance under Mick Buxton as we lost 2-0 away to Barnsley on 24th March 1995. The reason the loan spell produced so few appearances wasn’t due to injury or suspension, but because some daft hadn’t registered Matteo’s loan in time, meaning Sunderland had therefore fielded an ineligible player and were duly fined £2.5k. The precursor to a much more ridiculous process when we’d sign Ricky Alvarez many years down the line.
Not to be deterred by the incompetence of others, Matteo’s career took off after the loan debacle was put to bed, as he became a mainstay of the Liverpool squad over the next five years, although without ever quite nailing down a regular starting position. The Scot eventually left Anfield in August 2000 to joined Leeds United where he became a key component in their run to the 2001 Champions League semi final. On the flip side of this high, Matteo was also captain of the Leeds team who eventually succumbed to their financial collapse in 2004, which would be his final year in Yorkshire.
Matteo extended his stay in the Premier League though, by signing for Blackburn, although his first season at Ewood would prove to be the last he’d get through with minimal injury problems, as in the four seasons that would follow before his retirement, he would only manage double figures once. Matteo’s time at Rovers was steady enough, coming at a period where the club looked a comfortable regular in the Premier League and faced no danger of relegation (i.e., Pre-Steve Kean and Venkys), but ultimately fizzled out due to those injuries.
In January 2007, Matteo was allowed to move on to Stoke, and in a final hurrah for his career, helped them win promotion to the Premier League the following year, before calling it quits in 2009. His association with Sunderland isn’t one that tends to be brought up much, as apparently Champions League semi finals and man of the match displays at the San Siro are more important, but Dominic Matteo’s loan deal is definitely up there with Peak Sunderlanding that would make such a remarkable comeback in the 2010-2020s.