It is the 10th of December 2005, and Charlton Athletic are entertaining Sunderland at the Valley in the Premier League. Unbeknownst to either side, this will be the last time that both clubs will face off in the top tier of English football.
In fact, it will be the last meeting of any sort between the two clubs until Sunderland’s 2-1 victory over Charlton in August of last year.
That 2-0 win for Charlton in 2005 marked Sunderland’s ninth consecutive defeat in the league as the Black Cats slumped to a then-record low points haul of just 15, beating their own record of 19 set in 2003.
However, despite ignominiously breaking the record for lowest points in a Premier League season twice in three years, it was Sunderland who would go on to plateau for roughly a decade, with Charlton enduring a far more turbulent time of it.
Having enjoyed six seasons of comfort in the Premier League under Alan Curbishley, Charlton struggled badly the season after his departure and found themselves falling through the trapdoor and into the Championship in May 2007; they have yet to come remotely close to returning to the top-flight.
Instead, they have fluctuated between the Championship and League One for over a decade, spending their last three seasons in the third tier of English football.
In 2004, it would have been inconceivable to suggest that seventh-placed Charlton Athletic, something of a Premier League mainstay, would spend the best part of 15 years plying their trade between the bottom half of the Championship and the top half of League One.
It is, therefore, appropriate that Charlton should play Sunderland in the play-off final this Sunday, because they offer a better reminder than anyone as to what can happen to clubs who fall quickly from their Premier League perch.
Sunderland’s case has not been too dissimilar to Charlton’s initial relegation from the Premier League.
Following their relegation in 2007, Charlton found themselves at the foot of the Championship table just two seasons later; the only difference between the two clubs being that Sunderland managed to extract themselves from the Championship in just one season.
Similar to Charlton in the early 2000s, not many Sunderland fans would have foreseen them playing in League One before this decade was out, even if they had staved off relegation on numerous occasions recently.
Charlton’s example makes it imperative that Sunderland triumph on Sunday. Too many seasons spent in the third tier will rip even more financial security away from Sunderland and make a return to the Premier League in the coming seasons even more unlikely than it already is.
Charlton’s is not the only example of this. Leeds fell into League One in 2007 and subsequently spent three seasons there before eventually making it back to the Championship. Almost a decade of mediocrity followed before Leeds were able to mount a significant promotion push this season.
However, an immediate return to the Championship has also proven to be a springboard in the past.
Norwich recovered from their relegation to League One in 2009 by winning the division in their one season there, before securing automatic promotion to the Premier League the following season.
Southampton also secured back-to-back promotions a season after Norwich, but did so off the back of two seasons in League One, which should offer Sunderland some hope if they do fail to gain promotion on Sunday.
But the example closest to Sunderland is surely the case of Wolves. Like Sunderland, they too suffered back-to-back relegations after they were relegated from the Premier League in 2012.
An instant return to the Championship was followed by three stable seasons before they mounted a serious title challenge last season and won their promotion back to the Premier League.
Obviously, they were bankrolled by Chinese billionaires and Sunderland can’t expect the same to happen to them, but the fact remains that they will be in a far better position financially.
It all means that there is an extra onus placed on Sunderland to beat Charlton on Sunday, but that does not mean that they should want it any more than Charlton do.
The final represents a chance for the Addicks to right some of the wrongs of the last decade and possibly signal a new dawn.
After last year’s play-off heartache, Charlton will surely want to go one step further. Well, two steps further, (technically they already have gone one step further than last year) but that would offer little solace to them should they lose on Sunday.
It’s really a game that neither team can really contemplate losing.
In a battle of two fallen giants, one team has a chance to maybe lift themselves off the canvas, while the other might be dealt an irrevocable blow.