Having successfully consolidated back in the Second Division in 1988-89, season 1989-90 would see phase two of the recovery programme, when we’d make a push for the First Division.
However, while we’d risen as high as second on one or two occasions early on in the 89-90 campaign, our form overall had tended to be a shade inconsistent, a good example being a run of twelve league games from late December to March which produced just two wins. Perhaps more the form of a side battling relegation than one going for promotion!
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the result of this rather barren period was that we slipped down the table as the season edged towards it’s business end.
Automatic promotion was now all but out of the question, but a place in the Second Division play-offs was very much attainable, thus our game against West Ham - who had their eyes set on a return to the First Division following relegation at the end of the previous season, and who lay just one place above us in the table - was a six-pointer in the truest sense, while we were also on a revenge mission of sorts after we’d been quite literally hammered 5-0 at Upton Park back in October.
Our side showed three changes to that beaten at Roker by Division leaders Leeds the previous Tuesday, when Mickey Heathcote took over from Gary Bennett, who’d picked up an injury in training.
Also Paul Hardyman, now available again after a three-match replaced Rueben Agboola, came in while promising youngster Keiron Brady returned to the side in place of Eric Gates.
West Ham kicked off facing a stiff breeze but we were soon on the offensive though, following a free-kick, Colin Pascoe wasted a good chance by shooting straight at West Ham’s giant of a ‘keeper Ludek Miklosko.
But undeterred, we kept up the pressure and Gordon Armstrong was narrowly off-target with a twenty-yard drive, then Marco Gabbiadini and Keiron Brady fired efforts straight at Mislosko. Then came our best effort so far when a Keiron Brady free-kick was cleared only as far as Gary Owers, who sent in a great effort that had goal written all over it, until Miklosko pulled off a super save when he spectacularly turned the ball over the bar one-handed.
Then completely against the run of play, the visitors stunned the home crowd by taking the lead on the quarter-hour mark. Jimmy Quinn, who’d scored a hat-trick in midweek against Sheffield United, was at it again, when he went on a mazy, diagonal run before bringing in Stuart Slater on the left. The full-back’s centre was met with aplomb by Quinn, who left Tony Norman helpless from close-range.
A bit of a setback then, in view of our promising opening, and after Marco Gabbidini had missed a great chance to bring us level, Tony Norman came to rescue to prevent a certain goal when he dived out bravely at the feet of Martin Allen, who’d looked certain to extend his side’s lead. But in the twenty-fourth minute we drew level courtesy of a piece of magic from Keiron Brady; a centre from John Kay was touched on by Marco Gabbiadini to Brady, who beat Ludek Miklosko with a rather spectacular overhead kick.
At this stage Brady was more or less running the show for us and the crowd warmed to his undoubted skills. The youngster nearly put us in front - having spotted Miklosko off his line, Brady tried a rather audacious twenty-five yard chip which travelled just the wrong side of the upright, with West Ham’s keeper no doubt rather relieved.
We kept up the pressure, and following a corner from Paul Hardyman, Gordon Armstrong had an effort saved by Ludek Miklosko, then Marco Gabbiadini thought he had valid claims for a penalty when he appeared to be brought down by the ‘keeper butthe ball had already travelled out of play.
The West Ham stopper then failed to hold an effort from Gary Owers, but reacted well to block Colin Pascoe’s follow-up effort. Marco Gabbiadini then missed a great chance when he fired across the face of the West Ham goal after being set up by Gary Owers, and Kevin Keen was guilty of a similar miss for the visitors when play switched to the other end.
So 1-1 then at the break, it had been an entertaining first-half, and there would be plenty more excitement to come in the second period.
We had a scare shortly after the restart when Ian Bishop lobbed the ball over Tony Norman and the visitors seemed certain to have regained the lead before Mickey Heathcote popped up to clear just short of the goal line. Then a promising move involving the two Pauls - Bracewell and Hardyman set up a chance for John Kay but the fullback was off-balance as he shot, and his effort ended up narrowly wide.
However, in the fifty-eighth minute The Hammers shocked us again by regaining the lead, and again it was all down to Jimmy Quinn. Ian Bishop sent Paul Allen away, and the latter’s subsequent inch-perfect centre picked out the giant striker, who beat Tony Norman with a powerful header.
But just two minutes later we were level once more, and Keiron Brady, having netted our first equaliser, now turned provider, for his surging run was finally checked inside the area by Stuart Slater, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot. Paul Hardyman celebrated his return to the side by duly dispatching the spot-kick, leaving Miklosko helpless.
So it had been quite an eventful start to the second-half, but West Ham twice came close to edging in front for the third time, firstly when Tommy McQueen wasn’t too far away with a fiercely-struck free-kick, then again as a header from Trevor Morley brought a great save from Tony Norman.
On the hour-mark this rather incredible game took another dramatic turn when we went ahead for the first time, and once more Keiron Brady turned goal-creator when his centre was met by Gary Owers, who slammed the ball home form close range.
Tony Norman had to be at his best again when he dived spectacularly to clutch a fierce drive from Martin Allen to help preserve our lead. Then in the seventy-sixth minute we extended that lead thanks to a great effort form Marco.
Our ace marksmen beat Gary Strodder before closing in on goal, and while he had team-mates in support (and perhaps better placed to score) he chose to go it alone and went on to beat Miklosko with a low drive.
Four minutes later West Ham pulled a goal back to thus set up a rousing finish when a clever chip from Jimmy Quinn picked out Trevor Morley, who volleyed the ball past Tony Norman.
Colin Pascoe then forced Miklosko to his knees with a low drive after he’d been set up by Marco Gabbiadini and Keiron Brady, but this see-saw encounter ended 4-3 in our favour.
It had certainly provided excellent entertainment value for a slightly disappointing crowd of just under 14,000, while the win - only our second at Roker so far in 1990 - moved us up one place to ninth, just two points off the play-off zone.
And for me at least, the game against West Ham was “home game of 1989-90”, and was sweet revenge for the beating we’d taken in East London in our previous meeting.