Well, well, well, Mr The Imps, we meet again. We’ve played 8 billion games since we last met (in a non-pizza affiliated contest), but the sting of our playoff bubble being burst by Lincoln City to finish our 20/21 season still smarts. That game at the Stadium of Light properly summed up Sunderland’s time in League One, in that we’d given ourselves entirely too much to do in too little time to do it, still managed to put ourselves in a competent-looking position only to then have it all ruined by some useless third division knacker.
Remember how we were allowed fans back in the ground for the first time since the world ended on that playoff semi-final? The one where 10k (mainly) Sunderland fans made the noise of 40k? That brings us neatly on to our first player to have donned the red and white of both Sunderland and Lincoln…
Yes, it’s everyone’s favourite fountain of exceptionally inaccurate and incredibly easy to disprove fan-based trollope, Liam Bridcutt. A man whose entire time at Sunderland is best summed up by: fantastic debut against the Mags, steaming pile every other game, one of the own goals at THAT Southampton debacle. You could argue the greatest contribution to Sunderland Liam Bridcutt made was to spark life back into Lee Cattermole, who was so furious at the thought of being replaced by him, he turned into the Teesside Busquets for the remainder of the season.
Bridcutt was (that game against the Mags aside), incredibly poor for Sunderland, but to be fair to him, we were in the Premier League at the time, and Premier League, he most definitely was not. He departed Wearside in 2016 and took in middling spells at fellow disaster clubs Leeds (before Bielsa), Nottingham Forest and Bolton before arriving at Lincoln last year, where despite often being the shortest man on the pitch, he appeared to reinvent himself as a centre-back and is now their captain.
We do not like Liam Bridcutt, mainly because he was terrible, but him giving interviews pandering to the idea that fans are somehow the problem just puts a lovely exclamation point on it.
Possibly the opposite of Bridcutt in most ways, is another current Lincoln player and the dictionary definition of a cult figure for Sunderland; The King himself, Chris Maguire. Complete nomads career, taking in the sights and sounds of Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Derby, Portsmouth, Sheff Wed, Coventry, Rotherham, Oxford (twice) and Bury, the mercurial Scot found himself at Sunderland in our first season in League One, back when optimism was tolerated, albeit briefly.
Literally nothing about his record at any of those clubs suggested he’d come good at Sunderland, but Maguire just had that certain something about him: arrogance, confidence, ability to be a cut above the majority at this level. Often frustrating, but capable of winning a game on his own, he gave us unbelievable moments, two of which that stand out are his performances and goal against Pompey in the first playoff campaign, and that truly insane goal away to Crewe towards the end of last season.
It felt like Maguire had finally found a home at Sunderland, as he was largely adored by fans, and appeared to be in awe of the fact that he got to play alongside Aiden McGeady, it’s only unfortunate that time ran out of the forward before we were able to climb out of the league. While I understand why we didn’t keep him on at the end of his contract, I don’t think I’d be alone in thinking it’d be nice to still have him come off the bench for a moment of magic when needed, or at the very least, roll out his windup act to whichever League One jobber needed it the most.
One last thing to mention, remember last season when we inexplicably brought in a temporary coach for the playoffs against Lincoln? Well that man was Jamie McCombe, who took in three spells at Lincoln as a player and coach, in what is probably the greatest attempt at getting the inside scoop any manager has ever attempted. It didn’t work, naturally we lost the tie anyhow, and Jamie McCombe was jettisoned/allowed to leave like the common emergency loan keeper.