Roy Keane, the Sunderland manager, had implored his players to ignore the obvious emotion surrounding this fixture, the first since the death of the club's FA Cup winner, Ian Porterfield, and instead focus on claiming three points. Ultimately a performance rich in passion and pride provided a fitting conclusion to a painful week, goals from Kenwyne Jones, on his home debut, and Ross Wallace ending a rotten run for the home team.
It is almost 40 years since Porterfield first rose to prominence with a man-of-the-match performance for a Fife XI against Sunderland in a fixture staged to raise funds for victims of a mining disaster. A goal and two assists persuaded the Wearsiders to pay Raith Rovers a record fee for his services.
In remembering the hero of the 1973 FA Cup final, Sunderland fans reflected on a period when their club defined the term "underdog" and a time when the pressure was truly off. Fast forward 34 years and Reading's visit represented the antithesis of that famous Wembley afternoon as Roy Keane's expensively assembled team faced a match they could not afford to lose.
If expectations were understandably low against Leeds United more than three decades ago, victory at home to the Royals was demanded. Four successive defeats had all but deflated the buoyant mood which followed an opening day victory against Tottenham Hotspur and Keane was fast approaching the first genuine crisis of his fledgling managerial career.
Long-term injuries to the midfield players Dean Whitehead, Carlos Edwards and Kieran Richardson have weakened Keane's hand but a forward pairing worth £11m was available to him. Michael Chopra and Jones operated as a partnership for the first time and the latter forced the Reading goalkeeper, Marcus Hahnemann, into a fourth-minute save.
For the visiting goalkeeper it was a sign of things to come. Sunderland had dominated the early exchanges and a 29th-minute lead was fully deserved. Jones received a short pass from the midfielder Grant Leadbitter and cut inside from the right before unleashing a left-footed drive from 22 yards. Hahnemann moved tentatively to his left and was too slow to prevent the goal.
André Bikey's ultimately weak header apart, Reading had done little to trouble Sunderland's goalkeeper, Craig Gordon. The Scotland international emerged as the hero of his country's 1-0 European Championship qualifying victory against France in Paris on Wednesday but he was virtually redundant during the opening 45 minutes.
Gordon remained a spectator as his team-mates fashioned a second goal within two minutes of the restart. Again it was the former Southampton forward Jones who embarrassed the Reading defence, tricking the full-back Nicky Shorey before steering a tempting cross into the six-yard area. Chopra missed his kick but Wallace drifted in from the left flank to register a simple first goal of the season.
The busy Scot should have added his second, and Sunderland's third, in the 61st minute but the Reading full-back Graeme Murty was perfectly positioned to block a shot on the line. Coppell's players, the surprise package of last season's Premiership, were encamped within their own half and the 67th-minute substitution of the ineffective Leroy Lita reflected the lacklustre attack.
Dave Kitson restored an element of pride to a frankly pitiful performance when he headed home Shorey's free-kick five minutes from time. However, it was too little, too late as Sunderland were able to pay a suitable tribute to Porterfield.Reuse content