30th September 2017 saw Simon Grayson return to Deepdale with his new side Sunderland. In a highly exhilarating game, the teams shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw but Aiden McGeady took the limelight on his return to the club. Sunderland would be relegated for the second successive season come May and this is their first time back in the second tier for five seasons.
Preston are set to face Sunderland on Saturday for the first time since that 2017/18 season. Simon Grayson and Alex Neil have managed six further clubs between them since that day, with Neil the man to secure The Black Cats return to the Championship last season. Grayson now manages Bengalaru in India, with Neil having jumped to ship to join Stoke City earlier this season.
Grayson left Preston after an approach from Sunderland in the summer of 2017. You could understand his reasons for leaving, with the North East side having just been relegated from the Premier League. He moved quickly to secure the services of Preston’s player of the year in Aiden McGeady. Sky Sports reported it was for just £250,000, so North End fans were understandably annoyed that we hadn’t managed to bring back such a key player on a permanent deal.
A couple of years ago McGeady looked back on his terrific loan spell at Preston, which resulted in eight goals, nine assists, and some fantastic individual performances. He admitted he wanted to stay at Preston but Peter Ridsdale couldn’t make the finances work.
Speaking to the Preston North End website during lockdown he said “I said ‘I’d 100% sign here’. Even if a better offer came in on more money, it didn’t really bother me – I didn’t want to lose what I had at Preston. I think I even said to my agent a couple of days before I signed for Sunderland ‘phone Peter Ridsdale and let them know the situation, and see if they can still do it’, because I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed it and how much I wanted to carry it on.”
Before his return to Deepdale five years ago, he gave an interview saying that on paper Sunderland had a better team than Preston, which you couldn’t argue with, but some Preston fans were angered by this. It meant the Irishman received a frosty reception on his return and every touch was booed.
He was bound to score and when he did he couldn’t help celebrate in front of the Town End despite having scored in front of his own fans in the Billy Shankly Kop. He scored to make the game 2-2 after George Honeyman had given Sunderland the lead before Josh Harrop and Jordan Hugill had put Alex Neil’s side in front.
That season we missed out on a play-off place by just two points. There is no doubting that with McGeady’s quality again we could have finished in the top six. It was a great side we had with Jordan Hugill, Ben Pearson and Ben Davies down the spine. It has to go down as a huge ‘what if’ moment for the club.