Trust Niall Quinn to get it right.
Asked about Sunderland’s incredible, dramatic and unlikely campaign he summed it as clinically as any one of his 61 goals in red and white: “It’s been a really bad season full of highs”.
The man who helped haul the Black Cats back from the abyss all those years ago was talking about the Capital One Cup run, the defeats of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, of course. But yesterday at Molineux there was another treat for the 1,500 or so Sunderland supporters who journeyed to the West Midlands to pay tribute to Jody Craddock.
The centre-back is aiming to raise £4million for Birmingham Children’s Hospital in his testimonial year and it said it all that 9,095 turned up to support the game and pay tribute.
It said even more about the enduring popularity of the Sunderland teams that Craddock played in that so many were willing to trek for hours to catch a glimpse of Quinn and Kevin Phillips playing together again. For the players themselves, the memories were just as fond.
“That was the best dressing room I’ve ever been in. Camaraderie is one thing but genuine care for each other is another thing,” he said.
“We were one big happy family and I had a glimpse of it again. I’m thrilled Jody (Craddock) asked me down and it’s his day. Again, it’s quite emotional with his family coming out to take penalties.
“He’s a genuinely great guy. The referee (Alan Wiley) told me he had not given him a minute’s bother, unlike the rest of us!”
This was a veritable who’s who of Sunderland stars of yesteryear. Among the former heroes involved were Michael Gray, Julio Arca, Thomas Sorensen, Kevin Kilbane, Martin Smith, Gavin McCann and Marcus Stewart, all bossed by ex-assistant manager Bobby Saxton.
In the opposite dugout Mick McCarthy made his return to Molineux alongside his old assistant Terry Connor. He had delivered promotion to the Premier League for Wolves and had a fair number of the players who helped him into the top tier to chose from.
It was Sunderland who took the lead though, with Phillips and Quinn illustrating some of the same telekinetic understanding that made their days together at the Stadium of Light such a pleasure.
Phillips had been celebrating Leicester City’s promotion the previous day so it was no surprise he looked rusty – but Quinn showed more bite. He notched the opener on 43 minutes, stooping to head home Neil Wainwright’s cross to give the visitors the lead.
Craddock was one of two players who switched sides midway through, along with the excellent Alex Rae. Wolves missed opportunities through Sylvain Ebanks-Blake but when a raft of second half substitutions arrived, they drew level. David Edwards equalised for the home side before Craddock fouled celebrity player Ayden Callaghan (of Hollyoaks, apparently) and was awarded three penalties – each taken by his children Toby, Joseph and Luke.
Quinn reflected on a fantastic day with typical self-deprecation. “I was aiming for the other corner!” he said.
“It’s been a long while since I’ve been in a dressing room with my team-mates and it was very special in there.
“Even just listening to the manager brought it all back to me. The physio Gordon (Ellis) as well. We had some great times with each other and I’d even missed the stick we were giving each other.
“I’ve missed all that and it just makes you remember how great things were.”