April 2000: SUNDERLAND 0 CITY 1 (Dreyer 60)

IT WAS JOHN Dreyer’s only Premiership goal and – thanks to incompetent refereeing wrongly denying Jack Payne on Boxing Day – remains the only time City have scored at the Stadium of Light.

As we approach the Easter weekend, it seems fitting to turn the clock back two decades to a genuine battle to beat the drop.

Easter Monday 2000 will always be looked on as one of the highlights of City’s two seasons at the domestic game’s top table.

The ultimate survival drama will always be reserved for David Wetherall’s header against Liverpool on the final day.

But without that equally unexpected and just as crucial win over Sunderland, those last-gasp heroics would not have been possible.

City’s last great escape from a seemingly inevitable relegation was fashioned on Wearside with a tactical masterstroke by Paul Jewell.

Stopping Sunderland meant stopping the twin threat of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, a strike duo already with 42 league goals between them.

Jewell set up City in a 4-1-4-1 formation with skipper Stuart McCall sitting in front of the back four to help nullify the supply to the home front two.

At the other end, Dean Saunders was employed as a lone striker with Dean Windass and Robbie Blake taking up deeper roles to support him.

City headed to the north-east without a win for 10 games – and none away from Valley Parade since September. Few backed them to end that run against a Sunderland side still eyeing a potential UEFA Cup spot.

Yet it would turn out to be one of the gutsiest displays of the season – an odds-bashing performance that the present side have failed to repeat in their slide towards the drop.

City had a worrying trend for conceding early and yet it would take Sunderland until the 41st minute to finally fashion an effort directly on Matt Clarke’s goal. Wetherall and Andy O’Brien remained immovable in front of him.

Wetherall had gone close to breaking the deadlock on nine minutes with a header that drew a fine save from Thomas Sorensen.

Sunderland’s best opening fell to Quinn after McCall had blocked a Phillips shot. The big Irishman looked set to score from 10 yards out but Gunnar Halle threw himself in the way to smother his effort.

That summed up City’s determination to give nothing away – and looked even more valuable as City built up their attacking momentum after the break.

Good work from Saunders set up Blake to rattle the Sunderland bar before the breakthrough arrived, Peter Beagrie curling an inviting cross to the far post where Dreyer rose high to nod home.

Sorensen denied Saunders an immediate second for City before Sunderland launched some late pressure that was admirably mopped up by those in claret and amber.

Sunderland boss Peter Reid delivered some post-match foresight when he backed Jewell to lead City to safety.

Hero of the hour Dreyer, meanwhile, had already worked to convince those around him that survival was on.

He said: “I was screaming ‘c’mon we can do it’ as I went to celebrate with my team-mates. I wasn’t talking about winning that game but the fact we could stay up.

“That was the moment when we all began to believe it could be done – and we managed to stay up. Football can change with a little spark just like that.”

SUNDERLAND: Sorensen, Makin, Butler, Craddock (Dichio 83), Gray, Kilbane, Williams (Oster 32), Roy, Rae, Quinn, Phillips.

CITY: Clarke, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Jacobs, McCall, Beagrie, Dreyer, Blake (Westwood 86), Windass. Saunders (Rankin 83).

REFEREE: Stephen Lodge