If Sunderland’s time in League One taught us anything, other than it’s fine to be charged twice for the same game and time wasting from the second minute is actively encouraged, it’s that fans of other clubs just love to invent a rivalry with us, for reasons known only to themselves. Portsmouth very much took that crown in the first two seasons, but in our final year in the third tier it was Wigan Athletic who really tried to force a fake derby onto us, fully forgetting that we already have to pretend we have one of those in Middlesbrough.
In Wigan’s case, it’s probably because they couldn’t stop laughing at what we paid for Will Grigg, the very presence of James McClean or the fact that they keep signing players who used to play for Sunderland. There could be as many as five former Black Cats lining up against us this weekend – it could’ve been Jordan Jones too if his career hadn’t come to an immediate stop upon signing for the Latics permanently.
So, if we acknowledge the inevitable goals from McClean, Nathan Broadhead and Ashley Fletcher without much fanfare, let’s move on to a dynamic duo from our very recent past.
I’m going to come right out and say this; I love Max Power. Absolute lunatic, great character, a proper leader on the pitch and was very good for the level when we had him. Max started his career at local team Tranmere Rovers in 2011, going on to make 109 appearances for the Merseyside club between League One and League Two before getting a move to Wigan in summer 2015.
Some players just fit clubs immediately, and the Power-Wigan partnership was a perfect example of this. Power was part of a popular Latics team that won promotion to the Championship, thanks in no part to Will Grigg’s 25 league goals – 20 more in one season than he managed in two and a half years on Wearside, of course. Naturally, Wigan went straight back down to League One, finishing 23rd in the second tier, but they then went back up again, partnering with Rotherham to be the Fulham/Norwich of the next rung down of the footballing ladder.
The 17/18 season one saw Wigan blitz the league, with Power scoring in drubbings of Wimbledon, Oxford and Fleetwood (Wigan won those 17-0 across the board) with Power an integral part of the team’s fighting spirit. It was therefore a bit strange that he wasn’t given a second crack at the Championship, as, after only one game, Power was loaned out to Sunderland at the start of the 2018/19 season, the start of our League One adventure. That loan spell proved busy, as power managed two goals and three red cards in only 16 games, nicely summarising the madness that is the third tier.
Power made the move permanent in January 2019 and became a mainstay in the team under Jack Ross, Phil Parkinson and Lee Johnson, ultimately being given the armband at the start of the 2020/21 season. In what would prove to be the scouser’s last season in red and white, Power led the club to Wembley glory, as we snatched the ever coveted pizza trophy in front of precisely no Sunderland fans (except Phil Smith). Power had a knack for scoring the odd important goal (see Fleetwood in the 182nd minute at home), and arguably his crowning moment of glory came on 2nd April 2021, scoring in the 90th minute against Oxford United to seal the game at 3-1, and knee sliding in front of Elite Level Loser, Karl Robinson, who naturally threatened to call the police.
Unfortunately, Sunderland then forgot how to win for almost the rest of the season, and instead of using moment to break into the top two, we slumped into the play offs, and of course, the last kick of Max’s Sunderland career was that shot against Lincoln and fell to a 3-2 defeat on aggregate. Power’s contract wasn’t renewed, so naturally, he went back to Wigan, and promptly won League One with them instead.
Power is a spiky character, and as seen in all of our encounters with Wigan last year, will do his very best to get someone sent off. Hopefully, just like last year, he’ll be unsuccessful and we’ll do them in again. Lovely Max.
The other half of the Instagram Best Buds society is another member of our League One Nearly Men, it’s the massive Boro born forward and Turkish hair clinic aficionado, Charlie Wyke. Coming through the Boro academy, Wyke never managed to make an appearance for his hometown club, but instead took in middling loans with Kettering, Hartlepool (twice) and Wimbledon before being released in 2015.
That release led to Wyke joining Carlisle where he immediately set about a career of being a huge nuisance up front. In his 18 months at Carlisle, Wyke notched 32 goals in 77 games in League Two, which was enough to earn him a move to League One Bradford City. Another 18 months brought another 22 goals from 56 games, which won the attention of Stewart Donald’s suspicious looking wallet. Sunderland coughed up £400k for Wyke’s services in August 2018 as he was identified as the man to get us the goals to get out of League One at the first time of asking.
Naturally, Wyke was immediately injured but did score on his debut against Oxford, however, the goals did not start coming for the target man in either of his first two years on Wearside; those first two seasons saw him only hit 9 in the league. But come the pandemic, Wyke had found his scoring boots, as the 2020/21 season saw the striker discover a new lease of life in red and white.
Between October and November 2020, Wyke had already hit five in the league, but once Phil Parkinson was given the boot and replaced by Lee Johnson in December of that year, a beautiful partnership was born. Well, “partnership” is stretching it a bit, but basically, it turns out that if you recall Aiden McGeady from the wilderness and give him the ball, he’s really, really good at just putting it on the head or foot of Charlie Wyke from about five yards out.
Wyke went on an incredible run of form for the second half of that season, helping himself to 21 goals in all competitions, including four against Doncaster, all assisted by McGeady. Wyke finished on 31 goals all in all that year, but again, it all fell apart against Lincoln in the playoffs, he didn’t sign the contract offered, and off he went to Wigan.
Life as a Latic started slowly for Wyke, he had to wait until his seventh game before netting his first goal (a brace at Accrington), but his next five games brough him another three goals as Wigan gathered themselves for what would prove to be a league winning season. Sadly for Charlie, his season was cut short in November 2021, as he suffered a cardiac arrest in training – his life being saved by club staff before being returned to a stable condition in hospital.
That episode could have had much more dire consequences to Wyke than just his career ending, but incredibly he’s made a full recovery and, now fitted with a pacemaker, was able to make his Championship debut back in August. The fairytale was completed for Wyke just last week at his scored his first goal since his return, albeit in a 3-1 loss to Cardiff.
While I wish nothing but the best for Charlie, I would dearly like him to not get the inevitable winner this Saturday…leave that to one of his many other ex-Sunderland pals.