When the final whistle blew on that lovely May afternoon, the relief exploded out of everyone even remotely linked to Sunderland AFC. We’d done it, we’re up, we final shook off the chains of League One football. No longer would we be facing a cup final attitude every weekend. No more third tier plodders suddenly remembering their grandad’s third cousin removed’s gerbil was born in Byker. And, more importantly of all, no longer will yours truly have to scrabble around desperately trying to find out former Sunderland players who also turned out for Morecambe.
To say that the ranks of the Championship presents a much more wide and varied selection of players, both good and hilarious, to choose from would be a massive understatement. So, let’s jump into our first look into the past of the season.
Admittedly, we don’t really have to look too far back on this one, but it seems only right to go for a member of the promotion-winning team of two months ago. Signed in summer 2021 on loan from Man City, centre back Doyle wasn’t old enough to buy a pint for the first half of his season on Wearside, but was undoubtedly in need of a few by the time his 18th birthday came around. Very solid, dependable, a decent pass and deceptively strong, Doyle visibly had all the attributes you’d expect of a defender coming through City’s academy, and despite his weaknesses (pace, very occasional lapse in concentration, to name a couple), he was a key player and one of the in form performers of Lee Johnson’s table topping ventures of late 2021.
However, as we all know, Johnson loved flogging a dead horse, and so when Doyle was notably knackered and his form began to slip, rather than take him out the team, Johnson….just kept playing him. So paggered was Doyle by the end of the season, that under Alex Neil he started only four games. The jury will forever be out as to whether Neil rated Doyle or not, but we’ll never really know due to just how shot Doyle’s condition was come the exciting end of the season. A good young player with a bright career ahead of him, he joined Coventry this summer on loan, with Mark Robins’ team is probably the perfect next step for him, and I wish him all the best for that bright career, but I hope he has a shocker this weekend.
A product of the Sunderland academy of the late 90s/early 00s, big Scottish striker Kevin Kyle was facing an uphill battle in his Wearside career from the off, thanks to the curse of being touted as the “Next Niall Quinn”. Anyone evenly remotely suggested to be the replacement for Quinny had their struggles (see Laslandes, Flo…), but for a young player, this seemed particularly unfair. Although he did make a good handful of sub appearances in the Premier League, Kyle didn’t really get much of a look in as a starter until Quinn (and Laslandes…and Flo) had all left and Sunderland had been relegated to the second tier.
The 2003/04 season was a productive one for Kyler, scoring 16 goals as Sunderland fell in the play off semi finals to Crystal Palace, or, more accurately, to Neil Shipperley’s amazingly blatant yet unpunished foul on Mart Poom, and of course, Jeff Whitley’s penalty. The Scot struck up a great partnership with Marcus Stewart that year, but unfortunately for Kyle, it would be his last as a regular in the side, owing to a persistent hip injury which more or less robbed him of 18 months of a career, in which time Sunderland had gotten promoted back to the Premier League – he did manage a goal back in the top flight, away to Man City in 2006, but come the end of that season, with Sunderland bombing out another record low points total, Kyle was allowed to leave, joining Coventry for £600k.
It’s safe to say that Kyle joined Coventry at a time where “stability” was not even in the Sky Blues’ dictionary, as he was one of 23 signing that season, played under 3 managers (including former Sunderland coach Adrian Heath), and ultimately finished 17th. While a regular in the side in his first season, Kyle’s 35 appearances only brought him a return of three goals, injuries, form and the general insanity of Coventry in the mid/late 00s meant that by the time he left in January 2009, only two more league goals followed.
A couple of loan spells to Wolves and Hartlepool followed, before Kyle headed north and signed for Kilmarnock in 2009, where a regular run in the team saw happier times come around again, as he scored 16 goals in 43 games, earning him a move to Hearts in 2010. A similarly productive spell of 19 games and seven goals in the Scottish capital was then enough for the most intriguing move of Kyle’s career, as he signed for Rangers in 2012. Rangers had just been demoted to Scotland’s League Two, and although at the back end of his career, and only limited to eight league games, Kyle managed two goals for his spell in Glasgow, bagging a league winners medal in the process.
Finally, the striker wound up his time on the pitch with the 2013/04 season at Ayr United, the team Sunderland signed him from way back in 1998 – 24 appearances and five goals.
Since retiring, Kyle’s found success as part of the Open Goal podcast with Simon Ferry, and has hopefully learned to keep his crown jewels away from boiling water.