Following three straight defeats and relegation looming, Sunderland travelled to Derby County, a side challenging near the top. With the floodlights beaming and the red and white army having travelled in their thousands, the stage was set for a 19:45 kick-off that Good Friday.
Not even ten minutes into the game, the lads found themselves with a corner. After Aiden McGeady's ball in was headed clear, Lee Cattermole was able to find George Honeyman, creeping towards the edge of the box. After taking a touch to compose himself, the academy graduate let fly as white shirts closed him down. A well-struck effort took a wicked defection and wrongfooted Scott Carson in goal, as the ball found its way into the net. With the rain lashing down in the East Midlands, Sunderland players took to the Mackem-infested corner to celebrate. 1-0.
Only twenty-six minutes had passed before the lads in blue would double their advantage. A miss-placed pass from Richard Keogh was intercepted by the alert Ashley Fletcher. Seizing an opportunity, the Middlesbrough loanee sprinted goalward. Fending off three white shirts, Fletcher found himself in the box. A carefully composed strike left Carson hopeless at his near post to score his first goal in nine appearances before making his way over to the away end in the corner. Almost in utter disbelief at what appeared to have a routine Rams victory written all over it, a renewed hope and optimism was instilled across players, coaching staff and fans as we entered the last ten minutes of the first half. 2-0.
With forty-two minutes on the clock, however, Gary Rowett's side had to put a dampener on what would have been a surprisingly impeccable first half. Bradley Johnson found himself on the left-hand side and whipped in a lovely ball towards Andrew Weimann, who was able to beat Bryan Oviedo in the air and nod it into the path of Matteo Vydra, whose right footed volley soared into the top corner. Whilst Lee Camp was known for dropping a clanger in his stint with us, there was nothing he could have done about that one. 2-1.
If we'd been offered a 2-1 advantage at the break, I'm sure any Sunderland fan would have bitten your hand off. However, considering we'd maintained a two-goal advantage until the closing minutes of the first-half, it felt somewhat bittersweet. After chorus after chorus of 'Don't Take Me Home' bellowed through the away concourse throughout the entirety of half-time at Pride Park, Chris Coleman's side took to the field for the second half.
Minutes after the restart, Donald Love carried the ball over the halfway line out on the right-hand side before offloading the ball to Lynden Gooch. After slipping the ball through Craig Forsyth's legs, the USA international was taken down in the box by the Scotsman and the referee pointed to the spot. Aiden McGeady stepped up and, in typical McGeady fashion, didn't disappoint. A composed penalty found the back of the net as the two-goal cushion was restored.
The Republic of Ireland international didn't stop there, either, delivering a corner in the 76th minute. Paddy McNair instinctively flicked the ball towards the back post before Joel Asoro was able to drive it back across the face of goal. After a failed clearance inside the six-yard box, John O'Shea was on-hand to score Sunderland's fourth. A rare goal from JOS to say the least, the Champions League winner scored his fourth and final goal for the club in his 226 appearances. The lads got to the final whistle with the three-goal advantage still intact as the final result was 4-1.
After many Derby fans sat close to the away end took to clapping alongside us and many mouthing words to the effect of 'good luck' as they filtered out of the ground, my night was followed with a run back to the hotel in the torrential rain before the continuation of celebration!
To say this result came out of the blue was an understatement. Having not won in over two months and facing the side that ended up Play-Off finalists that season, most fans would have been pleasantly surprised with a draw. As Coleman marched over in the pouring rain, screaming, clapping and punching his other hand, a roar echoed throughout the away end. Despite all the odds, the lads had come up trumps.
A renewed sense of optimism was present among the entire fan base in that moment as Mission Save The Season felt imminent, or at least possible... but it wasn't to be. From our following and remaining seven games, a mere six points were achieved, three of which were after it was confirmed we were down as losing leads to Leeds United, Norwich and Reading cost us six and, ultimately, a place in the Championship for the following campaign.
As we now find ourselves three years on, we now have ten games remaining to secure promotion back to the second flight of English football. With two vital fixtures over this Easter weekend, let's hope we can win them both. Ha'way lads, it's in our hands...