This weekend sees Rafa Benitez continue his unenviable task of winning over a frosty, cruel Chelsea support, as he takes his band of Terry men up to the Northeast, where he’ll meet another manager anxious for a win.
Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland side are desperate for some festive cheer and will be hoping to prolong the Blues' Champions League trophy shaped misery. It’s a massive game for both managers, both craving victories, both for very different reasons.
Over the years, previous encounters between the two sides have produced some memorable moments, providing shock victories, avalanches of goals (spectacular ones at that) and some quite frankly offensive dance moves.
Ahead of Saturday’s kickoff, let’s look back at some of those special moments...
When football supporters talk about the magic of the cup, they mean games like this. When a Sunderland supporter mentions the Roker Roar, they mean nights like this. Having forced an unlikely replay down at Chelsea, Sunderland overcame the Blues to produce one of Roker Park’s most famous victories.
Sunderland, fighting against relegation from the old Division Two under caretaker manager Malcolm Crosby, took the lead 20 minutes into the replay through Peter Davenport. They spent the rest of the game with their backs to the wall, as Chelsea battered them in search of an elusive equaliser.
Chelsea puffed and panted, but somehow, a remarkably resolute Sunderland defence kept them at bay. Chance after chance was missed, wasted, or saved by a sensational Tony Norman in the Sunderland goal. Then with only six minutes left on the clock Dennis Wise equalised.
Sunderland looked gutted. Their hard work had been undone; with extra time looming, surely Chelsea would go on to win. Then, as if from nowhere, Gordon Armstrong leapt and connected with Brian Atkinson's corner to power home a sublime header that brought the home side a momentous result.
There’s been many a last gasp winner in the FA Cup, but few have provoked the raw, white hot, deafening atmosphere that Armstrong’s bullet header produced and few capture the spirit of the magic of the cup so well.
There are baptisms of fire. Then there are games like this.
Sunderland arrived in the Premier League fresh faced, hungry for success and eager to impress. The previous season saw Peter Reid’s side storm to the First Division title in record breaking fashion, amassing 105 points and notching nearly a century of goals.
However, they were soon to relearn the harsh realities of the Premier League with an opening day trip to Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea, who were hoping to build on last season’s impressive third-placed finish.
It started badly for Sunderland, Gustavo Poyet gave Chelsea the lead, heading home from a Dennis Wise’s corner, after merely 20 minutes. It didn’t get any better. Poyet, alongside fellow goal scorer Gianfranco Zola, and new signing Didier Deschamps, tormented the Sunderland defence, as the Black Cats slumped to a heavy opening day defeat.
By the 78th minute, Poyet had completed the rout and already staked his claim for goal of the season after capitalising on Zola’s superb vision, smashing home a first time volley with great precision.
In truth, it could have been so much worse for Sunderland, if Chris Sutton wasn’t oh so intent on proving why he wasn’t worth the £10 million Chelsea had just shelled out for him. Nevertheless, Chelsea were phenomenal, Sunderland weren’t.
If it were to continue like this, Sunderland were going to be in for a long hard season. As it transpired, they didn’t have too long to wait to exact their revenge…
Barely five months had passed before the sides met again in the league. In the time between fixtures, Sunderland had proved their premier worth - that opening day defeat was only one of three loses as the Wearsiders rose to third, while Chelsea, struggling to find their form, sat in eighth place.
Gianluca Vialli chose to rest key players in preparation for a forthcoming Champions League clash—it was decision that would come back to haunt him. Within thirty eight glorious minutes, Sunderland had skilfully dismantled Chelsea's defence, and their title hopes.
Many Sunderland supporters hadn't even taken their seats before Niall Quinn had slotted home the game's opening goal, by the time he netted his second, and Sunderland’s fourth, Chelsea supporters would have been forgiven for leaving.
Kevin Phillips continued his magnificent form by netting his fifteenth and sixteenth goals of the season, his first, a twenty five-yard volley, being his own contender for goal of the season. Gus Poyet may well have dominated the first meeting, but Sunderland had brought in their very own midfield maestro - Frenchman Eric Roy.
Poyet’s 81st minute strike was scant consolation as Chelsea were blown away by Sunderland’s in form, deadly strike duo.
The Premier League newcomers taught the Londoners a lesson in commitment, team-work and technique. The result meant it was now Sunderland who looked like the more likely to mount a shock bid for the title, as they stayed in the Premier League top three.
Sunderland supporters will be praying for a repeat of this famous victory this weekend.
Having established themselves in the Premier League with the previous season’s seventh-place finish, and having already recorded victory at home to Chelsea earlier in the season, Sunderland went to Stamford Bridge full of confidence in March 2001.
Sitting pretty in fourth, the Wearside club were hoping to build on another European push, while Chelsea, lying in ninth place, were trying to pick up the pieces of an inconsistent season.
Don Hutchison shone in midfield for the Black Cats, scoring twice and setting up another as Sunderland completed an extraordinary comeback with a devastating second-half performance. The home side actually went into the break 2-1 up, after goals from Marcel Desailly and Eidur Gudjohnsen had given them a half time lead, but they had no answer to Sunderland’s three goals after the interval.
Hutchinson, who had already equalised once, with a first half volley, leveled the score again seven minutes into the second-half by heading home a Phillips cross in at the far post from point-blank range.
A determined Sunderland began to dominate a fiery encounter. Then, just after the hour mark, Gavin McCann received a pass from Hutchison, before slipping the ball past Carlo Cudicini in the Chelsea goal to give the visitors a shock lead.
Kevin Phillips put the game beyond doubt by pouncing on a stray McCann shot to bundle home Sunderland’s fourth and the final goal in an enthralling game.
Going into this game Chelsea were looking strong atop the Premier League table. Sunderland, meanwhile, were still licking their wounds from a hurtful 5-1 defeat to their fiercest rivals, Newcastle.
The previous season’s corresponding encounter ended with a humiliating 7-2 thrashing for Sunderland.
In this game, for the Black Cats, demons were laid to rest.
On loan defender Nedum Onuoha opened the scoring right on the stroke of half time with a delightful solo effort that saw him ducking and weaving through the Chelsea defence in a manner normally associated with Lionel Messi.
Sunderland continued to sparkle in the second-half, with a vibrant display spearheaded by the makeshift strike force of Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck. The pair combined brilliantly throughout the game, no more so when the Ghanaian international expertly guided in a shot after a well-worked Black Cats move.
Chelsea were overwhelmed by the pace, movement and energy of Sunderland’s side, and it was finally all over when Welbeck secured a memorable Sunderland win after seizing on a poor backpass from Ashley Cole, to coolly slip home a Sunderland third.
After this result, Chelsea went six games without a victory, while Sunderland continued a good run of form to maintain seventh position.
By the end of the season, Chelsea regained their form to finish as runners-up. An abysmal run of results in the New Year, commencing with a 4-2 at home defeat to Chelsea, saw Sunderland slip down the table, eventually finishing tenth, thanks to results elsewhere.
This win over Chelsea was to be one of the last highlights in the Steve Bruce managerial era.