IN the third of a series of articles featuring the North-East’s big three, Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson selects Sunderland’s best XI from the Premier League era



When Peter Reid shelled out around £500,000 to sign Thomas Sorensen from Danish club Odense in the summer of 1998, he was signing a player few on Wearside had heard of. When Sorensen left Sunderland five years later, having made almost 200 senior appearances, he departed as one of the best goalkeepers the club had ever had.

Agile, athletic and an excellent shot-stopper, Sorensen starred as Sunderland won promotion under Reid, setting a new club record of 29 clean sheets in a season during the 1998-99 campaign.

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He excelled again in the Premier League, with his most memorable moment coming in November 2000 when he saved a spot-kick from Alan Shearer in a Tyne-Wear derby win at St James’ Park.

Alternatives: Lionel Perez, Simon Mignolet, Jordan Pickford



He might have had his run-ins with Paolo Di Canio, but Phil Bardsley’s six years as a Sunderland player were still a rollercoaster of highs and lows in which his reliable displays at right-back were one of the few constants. Signed from Manchester United, where he had progressed from being a youth player, the full-back made exactly 200 appearances before leaving to join Stoke.

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His effort and commitment were two of his biggest assets, with his never-say-die attitude endearing him to a succession of Sunderland managers. He was involved in a number of the club’s ‘great escapes’, but he is perhaps best remembered for the long-range strike that evaded David de Gea in the League Cup semi-final and helped send the Black Cats to Wembley.

Alternatives: Chris Makin, Stephen Wright, Wes Brown



He might have been signed before the advent of the Premier League, but Kevin Ball spanned the footballing generations as he spent more than nine years playing in red-and-white. Now firmly established as a club legend thanks to his ambassadorial work and input into Sunderland’s academy, it is easy to overlook just how good a footballer Ball was in his prime.

The Northern Echo:

His hard-man image was justified – Ball never shied away from a tackle and liked nothing better than clattering into an opposition centre-forward – but he could also play a bit and would offer a significant threat in the penalty area from set-pieces. He merits a place in this team for his leadership qualities alone – few captains have led Sunderland with anything like as much pride or passion.


Given that he had already spent more than a decade winning countless major trophies with Manchester United, perhaps John O’Shea’s very best days were already behind him when he opted to join Sunderland in 2011. Nevertheless, over the course of the next seven years, the Irishman would be the defensive rock holding the Black Cats together as various crises threatened to rip them apart.

The Northern Echo:

He might not have been the quickest defender in the top-flight, but he was always one of the most committed, throwing his body on the line to block crosses and shots. He was very rarely beaten in the air, and was a superb organiser of the back four, leading by example despite players of varying ability appearing to play alongside him.

Alternatives: Steve Bould, Jody Craddock, Jonny Evans, John Mensah



Like Kevin Ball, Michael Gray falls into the ‘club legend’ category at Sunderland thanks to both his longevity and the way in which his love affair with the Black Cats has not waned. As a born-and-bred Wearsider, it was always Gray’s ambition to play for his boyhood club, and over the course of 12 seasons after breaking into the first team in 1992, he made a remarkable 412 senior appearances.

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Away from Wearside, he will always be associated with the penalty miss that resulted in play-off final heartbreak at the hands of Charlton Athletic. To Sunderland fans, however, he is fondly remembered as a cultured, adventurous full-back, strong and precise in the tackle but also fleet-footed and occasionally flamboyant when breaking into the opposition half.

Alternatives: Marcos Alonso, Kieran Richardson, Patrick van Aanholt



Having joined from Manchester City, Nicky Summerbee made an instant impression when a goal on his Sunderland debut helped secure a 4-1 win at Portsmouth. It was to be the start of a successful four-year spell on Wearside, with Summerbee’s impish wing play proving a key component of the promotion-winning team assembled by Peter Reid.

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An old-fashioned winger who liked to take on the opposition full-back before delivering a ball into the box, Summerbee was one of the main parts of the supply line that fed Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. He blossomed in the Premier League, and eventually made 112 appearances for the Black Cats, scoring nine goals, before moving on to Bolton.

Alternatives: Liam Lawrence, Seb Larsson, Stephane Sessegnon



Having started his career at Hartlepool United, Don Hutchison had already made a name for himself with Liverpool, West Ham and Everton by the time he joined Sunderland in 2000. He only spent one season on Wearside, but it was sufficient to earn him a prominent position in the affection of most Sunderland supporters.

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A box-to-box midfielder who could pass, tackle and shoot, Hutchison was the fulcrum of Peter Reid’s side that finished seventh in the Premier League. He was an international regular with Scotland during his time in the North-East, but his performances were so good they made it impossible for Sunderland to hold on to him. A year after joining, the North-Easterner left in a club-record move back to West Ham.


If Hutchison was the energetic ball-winner at the heart of Peter Reid’s midfield, then Stefan Schwarz was the cultured play-maker benefiting from his team-mate’s industry. Signed from Valencia for £4m, having previously spent time in the Premier League with Arsenal, Schwarz’s capture was quite a coup, underlining Sunderland’s upwardly-mobile ambitions after winning promotion to the top-flight.

The Northern Echo:

The Swede spent four seasons on Wearside, making 76 senior appearances, and while he suffered from injury towards the end of his time in the North-East, on his day he was as good as any central midfielder in the Premier League. Sharp, inventive and technically-superb, Schwarz would have walked into most other teams in the country, such was his level of creativity.

Alternatives: Paul Bracewell, Lee Cattermole, Jordan Henderson, Ki Sung-yueng



While he also spent time playing at left-back, Julio Arca’s best moments in a Sunderland shirt came as a left midfielder. He was a relative unknown when he arrived from Argentinos Juniors in 2000, but over the course of the next six seasons, the Argentinian would firmly establish himself as one of the most popular players in the Sunderland squad.

The Northern Echo:

He made more than 170 senior appearances for the Black Cats, starring in the Premier League, but also remaining to help Sunderland fight their way out of the Championship in the wake of relegation under Mick McCarthy. He could be a brilliant ball-player, deadly from set-pieces and a threat whenever he ran at an opponent down the left-hand side.

Alternatives: Steed Malbranque, Bolo Zenden, Wahbi Khazri



It takes a remarkable centre-forward to keep Niall Quinn out of Sunderland’s best XI of the Premier League era, but Jermain Defoe is just that centre-forward. When the Londoner signed for Sunderland in 2015, it was feared he would not be committed to his new life in the North-East. When he left two years later, his legacy as a red-and-white great was set in stone.

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Despite playing for a team struggling at the wrong end of the table, Defoe scored 37 goals in 86 starts for the Black Cats, with the pick coming courtesy of a sensational long-range volley in the Wear-Tyne derby against Newcastle. Off the pitch, his friendship with Bradley Lowery, and his subsequent support for his young friend’s charitable foundation, highlighted Defoe’s qualities as a person as well as a player.


When Peter Reid signed Kevin Phillips from Watford for £325,000 in July 1997, he knew he was getting a decent centre-forward. What he didn’t know, however, is that he was recruiting a player who would quickly come to be regarded as an all-time Sunderland great. Almost two decades on, and ‘Super Kev’ remains as popular today as he was in his pomp.

The Northern Echo:

Phillips scored 134 goals for Sunderland, with his finishing prowess, composure under pressure and unerring ability to score from anywhere in and around the 18-yard box marking him out as a truly top-class striker. His 30 goals in the 1999-2000 season saw him finish the campaign as the Premier League’s leading scorer, and he remains the only Englishman to have won the European Golden Boot.

Alternatives: Niall Quinn, Michael Bridges, Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan