The Lee Johnson Derby is upon us! Two clubs who saw the best and worst of Johnson – Bristol City with their giant-killing cup escapades and failed playoff pushes vs Sunderland and our…pizza cup win and 6-0 walloping away at Bolton.
So it seems only fair that we look at two players from the not too distant past who both lined up for Johnson’s Bristol City as well as travelling the several thousand miles north to Sunderland.
What a truly strange career Adam Matthews has had. Coming through the ranks at Cardiff City in 2009, aged only 17, Matthews spent 2 years at the Welsh capital before moving onto Scottish giants Celtic in 2011.
In the four years he spent at Celtic Park Matthews found himself as a regular member of the all-conquering squad, if not necessarily first choice – he never made fewer than 30 appearances each season. Admittedly, this was during a period where Rangers had been hoyed down the divisions, and Celtic hoovered up as much of the Scottish talent pool as possible, but still, he helped himself to four Scottish Premiership titles, a Scottish Cup and League Cup to boot.
The biggest point to address here is that Matthews’ greatest achievement in football came on 7thNovember 2012, when he man-marked Lionel Messi almost entirely out of the game as Celtic recorded an incredible 2-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League. Matthews was sporting enough to allow the diminutive Argentine genius a consolation goal on the 90th minute, so that’s nice.
So, fast forward to July 2015 and Sunderland snap him up for £2m, everything makes sense – we’d signed a right back who had proven himself at Champions League and international level, and was still only 23 years old, great business all round.
His debut season in red and white saw him come off the bench on the opening day of the 15/16 season in a 4-2 loss at Leicester, and a start against Exeter in our mad 6-3 win in the cup later that same month. Matthews was not seen in a Sunderland shirt again for nearly two years, by which point we were about to embark upon our incredibly successful first season in the Championship in a decade.
What did the Welshman get up to in the time between those appearances? Why, he joined Lee Johnson’s Bristol City on loan of course, twice! His first spell in the 15/16 season saw the Robins back in the Championship after a two-year stint in League One and although they ultimately survived, Matthews’ contribution was limited to just 12 appearances (granted he only arrived for the last nine months of the season), and in true Lee Johnson style, that run included a 6-0 win over Bolton (hmm), a 4-0 loss to Hull and a 4-1 triumph against Sheff Wed. Streaks ahoy and that hammering of Bolton would be the only clean sheet during Matthews’ first spell at Ashton Gate.
The second season wasn’t that much more fruitful for Matthews either, as he was limited to just 14 appearances as City finished 17th in their second year back in the Championship – with the most interesting point to note of his Bristol career being that he once missed training and so was dropped. Exciting.
So, two years on from his last appearance for Sunderland, Matthews found himself a part of our Championship squad for 17/18, and, largely due to the absolute lack of competition, made the right back position his own. Matthews scored his first goal for the club in November 2017, beating Millwall’s Jordan Archer with a cross gone wrong, in a game where our own Robbin Ruiter conceded the same goal from a free-kick twice within five minutes. Down went Sunderland.
League One arrived and Matthews was still holding down the right-back position, although form and injuries took their toll on him which meant that he played no part in either of our Wembley appearances that season, and he was allowed to leave come the summer. A remarkable span of a career which saw him join as a Champions League player, deemed not good enough for the Premier League, and left without leaving a mark in League One.
Upon release, Matthews joined our playoff victors Charlton in the Championship and was a regular in their squad for the three seasons, though of course, the latter two were back in League One. Without a club again last summer, and still only 30 at the time, Matthews upped sticks and joined former Celtic manager Neil Lennon at Cypriot outfit Omonia Nicosia. Lennon has since been sacked, and Omonia incredibly find themselves sixth in the league, but at least the weather will be nice.
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If you ever needed to see just how bleak things were for Sunderland in League One, you need look no further than Antoine Semenyo’s brief cameo at the club. The promising forward came through Bristol City’s academy and joined Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland on loan on transfer deadline day January 2020, having only made a handful of appearances for his parent club to that point.
Despite the fact that he was bursting with pace and clearly a creative player, Semenyo found himself restricted to just seven appearances for Sunderland, six of which from the bench, as Parkinson much preferred to use the likes of Kyle Lafferty up top. COVID brought an end to that season, Parky’s Sunderland failed to make the playoffs on the infamous points per game tally, and that was it for Semenyo on Wearside; easily a high-scoring entry in the Sunderland In League One edition of Pointless.
When the footballing world came back in the 20/21 season, Semenyo found himself a first team player, finishing the season with 50 appearances in all competitions, including scoring two in his first three games. The following year saw him step up his creativity, netting eight league goals and the Bristol City Young Player of the Year award.
Semenyo started the current season like a house on fire, netting four in his first five games, then found himself as a fully fledged World Cup played, upon receiving his first caps for Ghana in Qatar. The forward’s form was enough to catch the eye of Premier League new boys Bournemouth, who shelled out £10m for him in January. So there you have it; exciting Ghana international player good enough for the Premier League, not good enough for Phil Parkinson.
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