There’ve been a few interesting Sunderland/Portsmouth meetings over the years.
Pompey were our last home opponents of 1988 in our Second Division “comeback season” of 1988/89. At that particular time, both clubs had their eyes on a return to the First Division, and Sunderland went into the game on the back of a 1-0 Boxing Day win against another side aiming for the top Division, Barnsley.
Portsmouth had gone down 0-1 at another of the promotion challengers, Watford, five days prior to their visit to Roker, though they still lay three places above us in the Second Division table.
We gave a debut to our new goalkeeper Tony Norman, who’d moved to us from Hull a couple of days earlier as part of a deal which took Iain Hesford and Billy Whitehurst in the opposite direction. Pompey had in their starting line-up a certain Kevin Ball, who’d later of course give us several years of sterling service, and on their subs bench was Paul Hardyman, who would also end up at Roker. So the scene was set for a rather interesting promotion clash, and Sunderland would go on to provide a New Year’s Eve cracker.
We began brightly, and could well have taken an early lead following a bad back-pass from Pompey’s Warren Aspinall, though unfortunately, Gary Bennett, playing at right-back, was unable to take advantage. Then the visitors responded, and while Sunderland-born Kevin Dillon’s rather weak shot drifted harmlessly off-target, another effort from Aspinall was bit too close for comfort, travelling just wide of Tony Norman’s right-hand post.
We then missed another great chance to take the lead in the eighteen minute, when Marco Gabbiadini beat Graeme Hogg to set up the chance for Gary Owers, but the latter miskicked in front of goal.
Gabbiadini in fact was causing a fair few problems for the visitor’s defence, and he set up another good chance, this time for Colin Pascoe, whose shot was deflected off-target. Then Gabbiadini himself may have netted following a flick-on from Bennett, but the youngster’s effort was well saved by keeper Alan Knight.
Our persistence finally paid off just after the half-hour mark, when an overhead flick-on by Gordon Armstrong found Marco, whose ball into the middle picked out Eric Gates, who netted from close range.
Bennett, Gates and Owers then almost added to our lead, but a second goal was not too long delayed, for a minute before half-time a cross from Owers picked out Gates whose goal-bound header was deflected into the net by Richard Ord.
So 2-0 then at the break and Portsmouth’s task was further hindered by the dismissal of Kevin Dillon five minutes after the break, allegedly for comments made to the referee. Then just after the hour-mark it was 3-0, when a superb ball from Gates found Armstrong, who beat Knight with a scorching drive.
Kevin Ball and Steve Doyle were then booked for rather crude challenges as the game threatened to get out of hand, but when normality was restored Gabbiadini forced a brave save from Knight.
Tony Norman had not been called upon to make a serious save, just a few routine catches, though he’d still impressed us all with his assured handling. However, our new custodian excelled himself in the seventieth minute, and at the same time brought rapturous applause from the home crowd when he dived to turn aside a powerful free-kick from Martin Kuhl.
Then five minutes later we added a fourth goal when Pascoe, having took a return pass from Gates broke clear into the Pompey box, and while the chance first appeared to have gone, he turned past Hogg and fired the ball home via the upright.
John McPhail, substitute John Cornforth and Richard Ord then had chances to further compound Portsmouth’s misery but 4-0 was how it ended, a highly satisfactory result with which to end the old year, and one which gave also gave hope that a second-successive promotion may just be on the cards.
Just two days later we began 1989 on a bit of a sour note when we lost 0-1 at Bradford, even though City‘s winner was somewhat controversial, but then got back to winning ways in the League with a successive 1-0 wins at home v Oxford (which avenged our FA Cup third round defeat at United’s hands) and at Bournemouth.
The win over Pompey was one of three occasions in 1988-89 when we hit four without reply in the league at Roker, the others being against Ipswich and Swindon. Unfortunately we were unable to produce such performances/results on a consistent basis during the course of the season, which meant that a serious promotion bid failed to materialise and we eventually had to settle for eleventh place in the Second Division.
However, as events would turn out, the “promised land” of the First Division would not be too far away, and hopefully the same will be true should we successfully complete the first phase of our “recovery mission” in 2018-19.