Eight months after a memorable victory in a FA Cup 5th round replay, Sunderland returned to the capital to face Billy Bonds West Ham United in the newly formed Barclays League Division 1.
The two sides were now rivals in the League due to Sunderland misfiring in their attempt to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt, and West Ham United missing out on the inaugural Premier League season after finishing bottom in the final season of Division One being the top flight of English football.
Bob Murray, seemingly reluctantly, gave Malcolm Crosby the manager’s job ahead of the FA Cup final in May, but the new manager continued to suffer the same issues as Denis Smith who went before him. The main issue was a consistent lack of support when it came to improving the squad via the transfer market.
The opening day of the season saw Sunderland travel to the County Ground to face Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon Town, that day Sunderland’s line-up contained all three of Malcolm Crosby’s new additions to the squad.
At the back, we began with the new addition of Terry Butcher to partner Gary Bennett. The ex-England international was signed in August 1992 after being without a club since January following his sacking as player-manager of First Division Coventry City. The 33-year-old was persuaded to come out of retirement by Malcolm Crosby’s assistant manager Bobby Ferguson, who had managed Butcher at Ipswich Town.
The two players that Malcolm Crosby managed to raise funds for that summer, were Scottish winger John Colquhoun, who was signed from Millwall for around £200,000, and the big signing of the summer, Grimsby Town captain Shaun Cunnington for a fee of around £650,000.
A Glenn Hoddle goal would provide the victory for his side on that opening day which would unfortunately set the tone for Sunderland’s season ahead. Going into the tenth League fixture of the campaign at the Boleyn Ground, Sunderland sat 15th in Barclays League Division One following three wins and four defeats.
Under pressure West Ham United manager Billy Bonds had steadied the ship after he was kept on in the hot seat despite dropping out of the top flight under his stewardship the previous season. Although his side were sitting 7th in the table, they were only five points behind second place Charlton Athletic with two games in hand.
Teams such as West Ham United who had aspirations to join the newly formed Premier League, quickly realised that year that the top spot may already be a forgone conclusion after Kevin Keegan’s revolution at Newcastle hit the ground running as they won they first ten league games of the season.
On the back of a 2-0 home win over Mick McCarthy’s Millwall, Sunderland travelled hoping to kickstart their season by recording back-to-back League victories for the first time. Moved to the Sunday for rare live TV coverage, Wearside settled in front of their sets at home or in the pub hoping Crosby’s men would pull out a performance in the capital.
It took twenty-five minutes for The Hammers to begin to spoil a cold October Sunday, when Kevin Keen beat Tim Carter low to his right from the edge of the box to opening the scoring. It took only four minutes for West Ham to double their lead when Trevor Morley took advantage of some slapstick defending to slot home from six yards out.
Five minutes before half-time Martin Allen effectively ended the game as a contest when he went clear of the Sunderland defence and finished well by lifting it over a despairing Carter. As if to provide symmetry to proceedings, five minutes into the second half West Ham legend Alvin Martin made it four from a set-piece, then Mark Robson made it five just after the hour and finished the rout with a sixth in the last minute.
As Sunderland fans switched off their TV’s or bought in another round, the next thought would have immediately switched to our next game. A look at the fixture list would have resulted in a realisation that Kevin Keegan’s League leaders were the visitors to Roker Park, who not only had a 100% record, but also had Sunderland’s captain from the previous season, Paul Bracewell, pulling the strings in midfield.
Just another weekend in the life of a Sunderland fan.
West Ham went on to finish the season as runners-up to Newcastle United, but as for Malcolm Crosby’s Sunderland?
After continuing to limp through the Division One campaign and hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone, Bob Murray made the call in January to make a change and appoint Terry Butcher as player-manager after dispensing with the South Shields-born Crosby. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Sunday 11th October, 1992 - Barclays League Division One
West Ham United 6 - 0 Sunderland
West Ham United: Miklosko, Breaker, Martin (1), Potts, Dicks, Robson (2), M. Allen (1), Butler, Keen (1), Morley (1), C. Allen Substitutes not used: Gale, Holmes
Sunderland: Carter, Kay, Bennett, Ball, Rogan, Owers, Cunnington (Rush), Gray, Armstrong (Atkinson), Goodman, Davenport