KEVIN Ball will send Sunderland into battle with Manchester United on Saturday looking to maintain an unlikely unbeaten run.
The 48-year-old interim head coach took the Black Cats to Old Trafford in April 2006 during his previous spell as caretaker manager and emerged with a creditable 0-0 draw.
However, the experience was soured by the fact that Sunderland, who were all but doomed when Mick McCarthy parted company with the club, were formally relegated that day.
A repeat of that scoreline at the Stadium of Light this time around would represent a major boost to morale on Wearside with the club still looking for a first league win of the current campaign, although Ball knows just how difficult that will be despite the criticism United have had in the wake of defeats by Manchester City and West Brom.
Asked if United boss David Moyes’ detractors were unreasonable in expecting instant success, he said: “From Manchester United’s point of view, they are probably entitled to do that.
“But they have also got to understand when things change, it takes time to build some sort of momentum, and I have no doubt in time, that will happen there.
“I just look at it as Manchester United. I know what quality of players they have got and know it’s going to be a very difficult game.
“What’s gone on in previous games, I’ll look at, but it doesn’t really count because they have got a lot quality about them, they are a good team.
“I am really hoping David Moyes is successful there.”
There will be several familiar faces in the United squad from the side which ran out against the Black Cats all those years ago with Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney among those still going strong.
Ball said: “I must admit, Giggs’ hair is grey now, isn’t it, like mine? It’s unbelievable, it’s absolutely fantastic.
“Ryan Giggs, you look at him and what he’s done and everything about him in terms of his football is absolutely fabulous, and Ferdinand, Rooney - superb.
“What I felt on the night was quite interesting as well. I can’t remember who it was when they came out, but they actually said ‘Well done’ to us on the night for the result.
“I felt a great sense of humility from them as well, which is a fantastic attribute to have.
“It was a great night. Ultimately what happened after the game didn’t sour it, but was a reflection.”
Six and a half years on, Sunderland find themselves in another difficult situation having taken just a point from their opening six league games and engaged in yet another search for a manager.
However, there were early signs of a recovery in last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat by Liverpool, in which the Black Cats fought hard to get back to 2-1 and were pushing for an equaliser when they were hit on the break at the death.
Despite their position in league table - they are currently bottom and four points adrift of 17th-placed West Ham - Ball is confident there are better things to come as long as the players roll up their sleeves and work for it.
He said: “At times, you either go under or you fight harder.
“What is important is that they keep their focus on that, they keep their focus on working hard in training, understanding there is an end aim, which is to do as well as they can possibly do.
“We need to give them focus, keep things in perspective and keep things real.”
Ball has no fresh injury concerns with striker Steven Fletcher back in training after dislocating his shoulder, although he will not be available until after the break for international matches, while fellow frontman Fabio Borini, who was ineligible last week, will return to the squad.