Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago.
INJURY HELL IS ALMOST OVER
STEPHEN WRIGHT celebrates his 27th birthday tomorrow saying that the best present he could get would be to return to first-team contention soon.
The right-back has been sidelined since the early weeks of the current campaign with injury and had to undergo reconstructive surgery on a badly damaged ankle.
But he is now edging towards full match fitness and admits he cannot wait to put his five-month injury hell behind him.
He said: “It has been a long, long time out and watching from the sidelines has been frustrating. I’ve just wanted to be involved in games, so the injury done my head in.
“I haven’t been involved for over five months and it has been difficult, but the gaffer has said that I’ll be a part of his plans, and it’s good to be back involved again.”
The long weeks of patient rehabilitation under the watchful eyes of the club’s physios are now largely behind the former Liverpool defender.
And he has had the boost of getting several practice games under his belt in the last few weeks, edging towards match fitness.
Sunderland will play a friendly at Berwick Rangers on February 21 and if all goes to plan, Wright should be just about ready for first team selection after that.
His integration back into the squad started last week when he was named in Roy Keane’s 18-man squad for the Coventry match, although the former defender didn’t make the bench.
It has been a long wait for a player who has regularly seen his career interrupted by injury since joining Sunderland in a £3million deal in 2002. But he says that when he does return it will to be a completely different side to the one he was forced out of back in August.
Back then, Sunderland were still trying to shake off the dreadful hangover from their 15-point relegation from the Premiership. But they have entered 2007 as a slimmed down, changed and resurgent outfit that has taken 13 points from their last 15.
Wright observed: “ We seem to be more knuckled down now, more positive going into games. We know what we want and everyone is positive, it has been good. Now I just need to keep myself fit and work hard.
“I’ll keep working on fitness and hopefully I’ll get some games under my belt. The boss has said I’ll be there or thereabouts when I come back again so it’s just my aim to keep fit and hopefully get in the team.”
KEANE: TIME TO COOL IT!
ROY KEANE is considering telling his players to cool it in training, to ease Sunderland’s injury problems.
The Black Cats have been hit by a series of injuries picked up on the training pitches at the Academy of Light.
And, while Keane has encouraged training to have a competitive edge, he doesn’t want it to become overly combative.
He said: “I haven’t said anything to the lads yet, but maybe I will this week, because I don’t want to lose more players the day before a game.
“Having said that, I don’t want to take the competitive edge away from training because I want to see the players getting stuck in – you can’t just turn that on on a Saturday if you haven’t been doing it all week.
“You have to remember that there is competition for places now, so everyone has a point to prove. And I’d rather have the competitive edge than lads strolling around in training.
Striker David Connolly and defender Jonny Evans both suffered injuries last week which ruled them out of Saturday’s 2-0 win against Coventry City.
Connolly suffered a nasty facial injury caused by Evans’ boot last Thursday, while Evans twisted an ankle the following day.
Keane said: “Jonny went over on his ankle on Friday and it was Jonny who was involved in the injury to Dave Connolly, so he’s had a busy few days!
“That’s the young players’ enthusiasm and sometimes you have to hold them back a bit – especially the day before a game – and get them to go easy.
“We’ve talked about lads wearing shinpads in training, but I know what players are like, they don’t want to wear them – people think you’re going soft.
“But it is something I will look at though because we have got important games coming up and I don’t want more injuries.”
Evans has already proved himself a fierce competitor and it has been his misfortune to be at the centre of the recent spate of injuries. Keane laughed: “There was one tackle in training last week – come to think of it, that was Jonny as well, so perhaps it’s just him I need to speak to!
“Seriously though, some injuries – like Jonny’s ankle – just happen, but there have also been one or two tackles flying in in training and sometimes you need to keep and eye on that.”
Both Evans and Connolly are back in training now and could come into contention for this weekend’s trip to Plymouth.