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Sunderland Albion – The Non League Years Part Two

This is the second part in this mini series by guest author @acidphire21

Following on from our rise through non-league that went way quicker than I expected we moved onto phase 2 of making this club the best in not only England or Europe….but the world [pause for dramatic effect]……..anyway the jump from Non-league football to the Football League, I’m a firm believer of keeping it simple from the conference down as pace will pretty much get you there and any players with one or two stand out attributes. Those guys are the match winners, anyway before I move onto the season by season review the summer after we won promotion to the conference we built a nice shiny new ground of 12k called “The Sunderland Albion Stadium” Catchy name don’t you think? Anyway moving swiftly on…

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Only a handful of outgoings as our policy of one year deals is a pain in the arse but doing a job. Leaving were Cameron Joyce, Kevin Parker a back up winger who had one standout season. Marc McNamee and Shaun Cartwright all left and never made it back into the football league. The incomings were particularly impressive we nabbed back Luke Graham from Bradford PA after they went down and we went up! Simon Jensen was brought in to be the new Left Wing back, there were a few other but those guys were mainly squad fillers.

Life in League 2 started well as we went unbeaten in the first 11 but only 5 wins in that run left us mid table as we beat Eastleigh on the opening day. But Rochdale were the biggest casualties as we put 4 past them. Five more wins in the run up to Christmas kept us sat 4th trying but struggling to break into that top 3 for automatic promotion. 11 wins in the final stretch of the season saw us break into the automatic promotion spots before we imploded 2 draws and 2 defeats saw us drop back to 4th and being desperate to win on the final day to stay in the play-offs. A 2-1 win over 8th place Oxford sealed a play-off spot.

Into the play-offs despite losing 2-0 to Dag & Red we dispatched them easily with a 3-1 win away and a 4-0 thrashing, so we went to within 90 minutes of League 1, and against Shrewsbury I felt confident but twice we had to come from behind to stay in the match. And at 2-2 with time running out we applied the pressure only to be hit on the break and made to stay in League 2.

The biggest highlight was that Tait & Armstrong continued to score as Armstrong hit 29 in 45 games, and Tait hit 37 in 43 also notice Stryjek who hit 6 goals all from free-kicks. The Cups were ok, our debut in the Capital One cup saw us lose 2-1 to Wolves in Round 1, our Debut in the Paint Trophy saw us lose on penalties to Burton. But our FA Cup run was a bright point, 4-1 victory over Wolves in Round 1, before a replay win over Berkhamsted in round 2. I was again dreaming of old Trafford but instead got the valley, and a replay win over them we were hoping for again for a big side only to lose to Stockport.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 4th IN LEAGUE 2 – Lost in play-off final

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 1st ROUND (Wolves 2-1 Albion)

JOHNSTONE’S PAINT TROPHY: 2nd ROUND (Albion 1-1p Burton)

FA CUP: 4th ROUND (Stockport 3-1 Albion)

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Only a couple more changes this summer as Matty Craig demanded a move so I let him go to Hartlepool as he refused to sign a new deal Joe Moore and Jake Howard were the incoming players.

We had a decent start to the season as 2 wins and 2 draws from the opening four was decent if unspectacular. Before 3 straight defeats to Port Vale, Leyton Orient and Northampton sent us tumbling, there was a bounce back though as 2 defeats in the next ten sent us yo-yoing back up the table. We started that run though with 3 consecutive 1-0 wins before beating Bradford 2-0. The run came to an end over Christmas as 3 draws and a solitary 1-0 win over Bury heading into a poor run at the Christmas period, we struggled losing 3 on the bounce. This season was very much narrow wins or defeats nothing resounding for us as we in a way struggled a bit in the second season to life in the football league, before things kicked into gear a bit more in January.

4 straight wins as we beat Crawley (2-1), Chester (4-1), Stevenage (2-0) and Port Vale (3-1) kicked us right up the table towards the play-off spots. A couple of defeats followed by a few wins seemed to be the run of the games remaining as we won 5 lost 4 heading into the all-important March fixtures. Wins over Eastleigh and Doncaster though put us with a point of the play-offs but we slipped back, defeats to Oxford and Stockport looked bad but all the other play-off chasing teams went on a wobble too. And with wins over Oldham and Blackpool we sealed a play-off spot.

Into the play-offs though and facing a Crawley side we had beaten twice I was feeling confident only to lose the first leg 3-0, despite a 1-0 win at home in leg 2 it wasn’t enough and we had to face a 3rd season in League 2.

Again we did well with the youngsters, Armstrong again hit 20+ goals Tait hit 19 and a 3rd striker brought in, Danny Bartlett even got 14. Keeper Stryjek managed to score 2 more free kicks too and he’s getting better on set pieces too!

The cups were a poor showing for us for a change as despite beating Huddersfield 1-0 in the capital one cup 1st round we went out to Crystal palace 4-3 in round 2. We beat Gateshead in the Johnston’s paint trophy quarter-final before losing in the semis to Preston and after struggling with Alfreton in the Fa Cup, we smashed Braintree, we went out in round 3 to West Brom in the FA Cup.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 6th IN LEAGUE 2 – Lost in play-off semis

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 2nd ROUND (C. Palace 3-4 Albion)

JOHNSTONE’S PAINT TROPHY: 2nd ROUND (Albion 1-3 Preston)

FA CUP: 4th ROUND (Albion 1-0 West Brom)

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This was an instrumental summer in the clubs progress and history but I never realised this at the time! Centre back Ben Ashby and some fringe players moved on like Zeidan, Dover and Gutteridge. But the main signings were Birger and Ostergaard, this guy arrived on a free from Liverpool at the end of his deal. Joining him was fellow Dane Casper Thomsen and Gerry Bailey. By this point we had still not spent a single penny on signings.

The start was far from encouraging though as despite a 3-1 wn against Chester on the opening day we only won once more in the next 5 games, a 2-1 win against Port Vale. But Ostergaard found his form on the right of our midfield 3. Inspiring us to a record of W8 D1 L1 in the next ten games as we shot to the top of the table. Big wins over Fleetwood (4-0) and Oxford (2-0) were the highlights of that run. A 1-0 defeat to Cambridge ended that however, another great run carried us over the new year, as 11 games unbeaten including three consecutive 3-0 wins over Stevenage, Burnley and Blackpool. Another defeat to Northampton ended this run before two 1-0 wins over Yeovil and Barrow a draw with Chesterfield, before we suffered defeat to Crawley. But by this time we were top and cruising at the top of the table. Another 8 wins before defeat as we confirmed the title and promotion to League 1.

Ostergaard was instrumental in this season he only weighed in with 3 goals but set up plenty as Armstrong bagged another 20 goals. With Tait notching 29 even Stryjek our keeper netted 8 times from free-kicks! The other Dane Casper Thomsen got himself 13 goals.

We only really disappointed in the cups as Sheffield United put us out of the Capital One cup in round 1 on penalties… I’m sure Cleon will be happy! We got past Bradford in the Johnston’s Paint trophy 2nd round before losing to York in the Quarter finals. Rochdale were despatched in the FA Cup 1st round but Fleetwood sent us out in round 2.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 1st IN LEAGUE 2

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 1st ROUND (Sheff Utd p2-2 Albion)

JOHNSTONE’S PAINT TROPHY: Quarter Finals (York p1-1 Albion)

FA CUP: 2nd ROUND (Fleetwood 3-1 Albion)

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This summer was the first time we received transfer fees as Standard Mendes left for Ipswich in a £300K deal before Slask met Stryjeks release clause taking our No 1. Keeper away from us. We replaced him with Irish stopper Sean Morrissey. We also brought in Dutchman Peter Juul  on a free. Our first paid transfer was for Harlem Campbell from Southampton for £22 but his opportunities were limited by a youth prospect called Ross Walton.

An average start to the season as we beat Walsall 1-0 before getting smashed 5-1 by Millwall.  Another narrow win over Charlton before defeat to Blackpool saw us have an up and down start. But we settled in eventually notching 3 straight wins, over Preston, Shrewsbury and Bradford before one win in the next 5 put us back into place. But only one defeat in the last 12 including 8 clean sheets showed Morrissey settling in well to life in England.

Ostergaard was performing above expectations and we were expecting a bid at some point but I was determined he would stay. As would Walton, with the 16yr old playing brilliantly in his first senior season. Eight wins in the next 10 games propelled us up to the top of the table fighting with Crewe and Wolves needing to catch us, before a colossal collapse as 6 defeats in 8 dropped us back into the play-offs, including defeats to Crewe. A pick up in the final 5 games as we got 3 wins over Birmingham (2-0), Coventry (5-2) and Leyton Orient (3-2) saw us miss out on an automatic promotion spot by three points. So we headed into the play-offs, defeat in the first leg 3-1 to York I thought that would be that and we would need another season in league 1. But a 4-2 win saw us come back and forth penalties which we managed to win, into the final we edged a narrow game against MK Dons 1-0 we were in the championship next year!

I continued my use of the Goalkeeper taking free kicks as he notched 2, it’s a start. But Ostergaard came more into it scoring 12 times. Armstrong hit over 20 again as he notched 21 times this term, with Tait hitting 26.

Cups again continue to disappoint as a 3-1 defeat to Huddersfield put paid to our Capital One cup chances. A 1-0 defeat to Wolves killed that chance of silverware in the first attempt too! We fared marginally better in the FA Cup beating Gillingham and Preston to reach round 3, the lack of a big team in round 3 disappointed us again as we eased past Hartlepool 2-0 to draw a trip to Leeds where we lost in round 4.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 4th in League 1 (Play-off winners)

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 1st ROUND (Huddersfield 3-1 Albion)

JOHNSTONE’S PAINT TROPHY: 2nd Round (Wolves 1-0 Albion)

FA CUP: 4th ROUND (Leeds 3-1 Albion)

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A busy summer as we shed a lot of dead wood, Goalkeeper Ollie Herbert who was number one keeper in the non-league was released as was Luke Graham after getting him back again. He just failed to fulfil his potential. After the emergence of Ostergaard and Walton I felt Chadwick could move on as could Jensen as his sale to Sheffield United was my biggest income of the summer. With Martin Lloyd heading to Mansfield for £150k too, the incomings weren’t much of note as they were all to strengthen the squad.

The start to the season was a massive struggle as we were beaten 4 times on the bounce only scoring once. A 4-0 win over Sheffield United was the only let up before being beaten by Norwich it was if the step up to the championship was too much. As we only won twice more in the next 8 games leaving us firmly in a relegation battle. But the wins we were getting showed promise as a 3-1 over Middlesbrough, 4-1 over Alfreton and 3-1 over Luton showed we could do it. Going into the second half of the season we improved beating Barnsley and Reading then Huddersfield for three back to back wins. One more win in the next 6 dragged us back into the relegation mix. But a good run from the end of February saw us pull away and eventually survive our first season in tier 2 in mid-table. The biggest game in the club’s history also happened this season we got our first inter-city derby, we drew 1-1 at the stadium of light but won 3-1 at home to at least get bragging rights this year.

The biggest shock was Tait struggled this season as his return of 4 goals was abysmal so was replaced with Dutchman Peter Juul who got 19 in 28. He played alongside first choice striker Phil Armstrong who again notched over 20 as his 29 got him the top scorer award. Ostergaard hit 19 from midfield as the goals flowed towards the end of the season.

We demolished Bury in round 1 of the Capital one cup 5-1 but were smashed by fellow Championship side Everton in round 2 by 5 goals to 1. The FA cup run went past round 3 as we beat Blackpool and round 4 as we eased past Brentford but fell in round 5 against Man City.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 13th in the Championship

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 2nd ROUND (Everton 5-1 Albion)

FA CUP: 5th ROUND (Man City 5-3 Albion)

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Some more in and out this summer as Defender Justin Wall left for £1.3m. Sean Morrissey was also poached by Man City for £400k and I still to this day don’t know why! Pritchard left for £150k and Bartlett also moved on this summer, the incomings were better we snapped up goalkeeper Tomas Marti for £425k to be our new No.1 and Saverio Conti on a free to slot into midfield with Ostergaard and Walton.

We start this season with a win at least as we beat Luton away 3-1 but then went 6 games without a win. The only upside was those games ended up as draws as we only lost 2 of that run. Back to back wins over Blackpool and Barnsley both 3-2 got some points on the board before defeat to Q.P.R. A 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland saw us go three without defeat beating West Brom 2-1 and drawing with Hull before we lost one week and didn’t lose again for the next 8 games, as we beat Brighton 2-0 and Sheffield United 4-1. But lost to Swansea, Alfreton and Reading in that run up to Christmas. Four wins over Christmas against Villa, Luton Brentford and Huddersfield propelled us up the table which was useful as we only managed to notch 4 more wins from the end of January. Beating Plymouth West Brom Brighton and Alfreton as the two derbies this year both ended in draw as we got a 1-1 at the stadium of light.

Armstrong struggled with injuries again this year but still finished as our top scorer finishing with 19 goals in 33 games. Juul hit 9 and Ostergaard got 12 which shows how few we scored this year. The midfield three of Conti Ostergaard and Walton were influential in keeping us in the league for another year.

Our Capital One cup run wasn’t most of a run as a one-step then fall over. We beat Grimsby in round 1 before Chesterfield beat us 2-0 with ease. The FA Cup run saw us bomb out in round 3 to Brentford.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 15th in the Championship

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 2nd ROUND (Chesterfield 2-0 Albion)

FA CUP: 3rd ROUND (Albion 2-3 Brentford)

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The release of a handful of players were the only outgoings this summer. Incoming saw Mikael Nielsen arrive from AGF on a free Daniel Jensen arrive from Midtjylland for £350k and Peter Jensen arrive from AC Milan on loan easily our biggest coup. Afonso also arrived on loan from Tenerife to be our backup left-wing back.

We started the season brilliantly with back to back wins over Crew (4-0) and Nottm Forest (1-0). Then a defeat to Hull followed before another set of back to back wins, with us smashing Millwall 5-0. We struggled to find any real form always winning once or twice then losing . The defeat to Newcastle at St James Park was hard for me to take but we beat Middlesbrough the following week 3-0 which helped. One defeat to Leeds (2-0) in the following 10 games sent us flying up the league as we got wins over Ipswich and Derby (Both 3-1) West Brom and Fulham. Our first Derby of the season again ended in a draw at the Stadium of Light. We continued this form over the Christmas period and into the new year as we defeated Crewe again (3-0) before a run of 4 consecutive wins. The only defeats were against Forest and Plymouth as we even beat Newcastle 2-0, Middlesbrough and Ipswich again.

This run took us into the automatic promotion spots and looking good to be promoted to the premiership but a run of two wins and 6 defeats in the last 8 of the season sent us back down into the play-off spots. As we lost the title by 2 points and finished 3rd on goal difference. So we had to pick ourselves up again and head into the play-offs against Nottingham Forest. A 0-0 draw in Nottingham was followed up but a 1-1 draw and penalty win for us at home, we went within 90 minutes of the Promised Land! But lost 3-1 to Middlesbrough in the final we had beaten Boro twice in the league to lose the game that mattered the most hurt.

Another great season for Phil Armstrong who notched 28 this season. The rest of the goals came from midfield as Ostergaard continued his influence for us hitting 13 goals, while Walton hit double figures for the first time ever. Juul struggled alongside Armstrong with only 9 as Tait continued to be poor. Another year of the cups being over before we had started as we crashed out of the capital one cup in the 2nd round to Leeds, before losing in the FA Cup 3rd to premiership Tottenham.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 3rd in the Championship

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 2nd ROUND (Albion 0-3 Leeds)

FA CUP: 3rd ROUND (Tottenham 1-0 Albion)

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This summer was impressive for us regarding sales as Peter Juul was shipped out to Hertha BSC for £8m!  Dan Eide left for £3.5m and Anders Hansen left for Premiership Side Brentford. Incoming saw Afonso’s loan deal made permanent, Jan Nijhuis brought in to replace his fellow Dutchman Juul as number one and Scottish midfielder Alex Coll for £500k.

The season began in storming fashion as we notched up three straight wins the most impressive being against Aston Villa (4-1). We dropped points to Forest before hitting another 3 straight victories including smashing Crewe 5-0. Again another draw stopped the winning streak, but 6 victories on the spin saw us take firm hold at the top of the table before November, including 3-1 wins over Everton Norwich and Newcastle. A defeat to Blackburn though reminded us we weren’t unbeatable yet…. Big wins over Wolves (4-2) and Plymouth (5-1) though showed our strength of character in bouncing back but it did mean we went from the 6/11 to the 22/4 without losing. As a defeat to Alfreton was the end of the run, the highlights did include beating Bournemouth 4-0 Forest 5-2. We thumped Crewe again this time winning 5-1, which led into back to back 3-0 wins over Berkhamsted and Leeds. Everton were the next scalp (3-0) but the biggest of them all was beating Liverpool twice 2-1 at home and 3-1 at Anfield as we finished the season with 114 points 28 points clear of 2nd placed Fulham!

We had plenty of goals in us this year as Armstrong hit 20+ again this year notching 25. Nijhuis weighed in with 16 in his debut season. Swedish striker Jacob Olofsson hit 13 in his first year at the club, even the midfield helped out as Conti bagged 7, Ostergaard got 19 and Walton hit 11.

We got a couple of small cup runs in this year too as we beat Gateshead in the Capital One Cup 1st round, before beating Dag & Red in round 2, and Blackburn in round 3 only to lose to premiership Hull in the 4th round by a single goal to nil.

The FA Cup run went a single round extra as a 3rd round win over Bournemouth saw us face man city and a draw at home meant we got the payday we required going to the Etihad only to lose 3-2.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 1st in the Championship

CAPITAL ONE CUP: 4th ROUND (Hull City 1-0 Albion)

FA CUP: 4th ROUND (Man City 3-2 Albion)

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So after 16 years we have done it, went from level 10 of the pyramid to the premier league, the fun starts now, we amassed only 368 football league games in the process though scoring 709 goals and collecting 674 points. The hard world really starts now but I’ve been impressed with the youth players I’ve brought on Phil Armstrong still scoring goals since no league Tait…not so much Walton has come on leaps and bounds and will be important to us of the next few years. So really there’s only one thing left for me to do *take it away maestro!*

I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then.

Gonna Keep on tryin’ till I reach the highest ground!

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