A classic of a lower league fixture for us to feast on this weekend as Sunderland AFC welcome perpetual youth academy/factory Crewe Alexandra, who go against all tradition and play an away game.
Crewe’s tradition of churning out quality players who inevitably end up playing in the top flight has produced an impressive list that includes Dean Ashton, Danny Murphy and the one who deserved better purely for his name alone, Kenny Lunt.
So as a bonus fact, who better to link our two clubs together than a man whose extremely short playing career included an injury-ravaged stay at Crewe before being put in charge of overseeing a footballing transformation at Sunderland in the mid 2010s?
It is of course, Lee Congerton. Lee and the constant look of dismay and horror on his face whenever he remembered he was at Sunderland.
Since leaving Wearside, Congerton has remarkably still had other jobs, good ones at that, as he went to Celtic and Leicester, following Brendan Rodgers on both occasions to be head of recruitment. He’s now with Serie A’s recent flavour of the month Atalanta, so he’s having a lovely time.
But on to serious matters.
Another product of that prestigious academy is of course Welsh wizard, scorer of the occasional belter and Middle Earth look-a-like competition winner, David Vaughan. The midfielder made his professional debut for Alex way back in 2000, and over the course of seven years forced himself into becoming a first team mainstay, notching up 185 league games and 18 goals as Crewe bounced between the second and third tiers. In summer of 2007 though, is one of those great bits of footballing madness that you usually forget ever happened, as Vaughan was signed by Chris Coleman’s Real Sociedad, recently relegated to the Segunda Division, for £300k.
Vaughan’s solitary season in Spain wasn’t overly successful, as Sociedad failed to win immediate promotion, but it did mean that he can claim to have played alongside future Barcelona and Man City keeper Claudio Bravo. The Spanish trip only yielded 9 games and 1 goal for Vaughan, and with Coleman resigning in January 2008, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the midfielder to make further strides into the team, so back to England he went in August 2008, signing for Championship side Blackpool for £200k.
To say that the unsuccessful spell in Spain gave Vaughan something to prove would be putting it lightly, as he quickly became a key member of their squad, finishing 16th in his first season, before that incredible play-off winning campaign of 09/10.
The Premier League didn’t look to be beyond Vaughan either, as Blackpool’s much lauded expressive football was largely thanks to Vaughan and fellow midfielder Charlie Adam. So when Blackpool ultimately got relegated, it was no surprise to see Vaughan stay in the top flight as his contract expired, joining Sunderland.
Unfortunately for Vaughan, and as is the way with most who head to Wearside, this is where things stuttered and staggered. Never a first team regular, the Welshman failed to make more than 24 league appearances in any of his three seasons in the North East, but we were treated to three moments of sheer magic from him: this screamer against Blackburn in Martin O’Neill’s debut as Sunderland boss; his ridiculous curling effort against the Mags in the first 3-0; and, of course, his exceptional own goal which helped knock us out of the FA Cup quarter finals against Everton.
Upon leaving Sunderland, Vaughan went on loan to Nottingham Forest twice, before joining permanently in 2014, stayed for four seasons in Forest’s traditional battle against promotion, before moving…across the Trent Bridge to Notts County. A sad end to Vaughan’s mad career, as they were relegated from the Football League, under the stewardship of entirely too many managers.
One for a current link! Mandron will be returning to the Stadium of Light this weekend, having come through our academy in 2013. The striker only made three appearances for Sunderland, all of which came in the Premier League, as well as taking in loans at Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Hartlepool.
Released in summer 2016, Mandron found himself under contract with everyone’s favourite Just A Nice Man Doing His Best, when he signed for National League Eastleigh. A productive season saw him hit 10 goals in 28 games, and he was rewarded with a move to Championship Wigan Athletic the following year.
The second tier was a stretch too far however, making only three appearances before joining League Two Colchester United in 2017. Two years with the U’s culminated in 85 games and 12 goals before a move to Gillingham in 2019, joining Steve Evans’ party bus.
In his sole season with the Gills, he managed 5 goals in 23 games, so it’s particularly Sunderland-y of us for 2 of those goals to have come at the Stadium of Light, in what would be our last home game of the season before the pandemic ended the season (unless you voted against ending the season as long as you got to play more of that same season…).
With Sunderland 2-1 up and less than 10 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson’s time at the club was summarised perfectly when the returning Mandron, having already hit an equaliser 15 minutes earlier, tucked away his second in the dying moments of the match. That goal, thanks to the points per game rule, saw us drop out of the play-offs entirely, where a win could have seen us within an inch of getting an automatic promotion spot. Ah, Sunderland.
Mandron’s currently on six goals for the season, so we await his inevitably hat-trick which simultaneously ends our play-off hopes and causes Ross Stewart’s feet to fall off.
Signed in July 2021,10 league appearances, including in the 4-0 drubbing from Sunderland in October, but sadly since released to be reunited with Parky at Hollywood Hulk Wrexham, it’s…