For all of the glamour of the 1992 cup run, it masked some pretty serious problems at Sunderland. While the cup run had, of course, been hugely enjoyable, our league form had been poor – particularly considering the impressive season we’d had in the top flight the year before.
Malcolm Crosby had been given the permanent manager’s position on the eve of the Cup Final – more to do with Bob Murray not wanting a caretaker manager leading the club out against Liverpool, less to do with his suitability for the job.
Fast forward five months, and things were predictably looking glum.
Captain Paul Bracewell’s defection had removed a key on and off-field presence and, despite being backed to make some relatively big money signings – Shaun Cunnington and John Colquhoun, and a big name signing – Terry Butcher – Malcolm Crosby’s team had gotten off to a rather cumbersome start. With eight points and only five goals from the first eight games, and the team sitting in 18th position, Crosby was looking to shake things up a little.
Peter Davenport, who Smith had signed two years prior to replace Eric Gates as Marco Gabbiadini’s strike partner, was the man he turned to.
Dav, a popular and skilful forward who’d been spotted by Brian Clough, who knew a thing or two about strikers, had starred in the cup run the season before, albeit thanks to Don Goodman’s ineligibility. He’d been an integral part of the team, memorably scoring in the Quarter Final replay against Chelsea.
But so far this campaign he’d been a fixture on the bench, and had handed in a transfer request as a result.
The week prior he’d replaced the injured John Byrne with just over 20 minutes left as the team lost away at Watford. For all of his heroics the season before, Byrne had had a slow start to the season, looking unhappy and playing at a level way below that which we’d seen only a few months earlier. It wasn’t a happy camp.
The day prior to our next fixture, a home tie against Mick McCarthy’s Millwall, Byrne was ruled out with the injury he’d picked up at Vicarage Road. Whether something was already in the works or the injury was genuine, no one knows – however Byrne had kicked his last ball for the club; and went on to join Millwall the next week.
In addition to Byrne missing out, David Rush, who’d also started the Cup Final and had been given more opportunities in the first team so far this season, was also ruled out, leaving Crosby looking in Davenport’s direction.
“His attitude’s been good, he’s OK,” said Crosby, who also told reporters he’d been intending to start Davenport, regardless.
“We’ve had a few problems scoring,” he continued, “but Don Goodman’s goal against Watford will have given him a lift and I’m looking forward to see how he links up with Dav.”
Going into the game the following day, against a Millwall side featuring two players who would go on to play for Sunderland – albeit briefly – Kenny Cunningham and Colin Cooper, the Roker Men lined up like this:
Tim Carter, John Kay, Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball, Anton Rogan; Gary Owers, Shaun Cunnington, Martin Gray, Gordon Armstrong; Don Goodman, Peter Davenport.
Subs: Brian Atkinson, John Colquhoun.
Sunderland won the game 2-0, with two goals from Big Bad Don, who struck past future nemesis Kasey Keller.
Davenport impressed – setting up both goals and hitting the post – his striking partner issuing some stellar post-match praise: “He had a blinder,” Goodman said.
Although Davenport kept a regular place in the side over the following months, it took six games for him to score – an equaliser from the spot in a 5-2 defeat to Peterborough at London Road – in a poor run that included a 6-0 hammering at Upton Park.
He got his first goal of the season from open play the week after his first, in another defeat – this time to Leicester. A change of manager midway through the season – Butcher replacing Crosby – saw Davenport often deployed on the right wing to accommodate new signing Mick Harford, and he rotated between right wing, up front or on the bench throughout the season; scoring a total of four goals as we inadvertently avoided relegation at Notts County on the last day of the season.
32 year old Davenport left Sunderland at the end of that season, after three years, 120 games and 18 goals, heading over the border to Airdrie, before seeing out his career on a whistle stop tour of the lower divisions and non-league, including Southport, Macclesfield and Congleton.