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On This Day (20 Nov 1992): Sunderland boss Crosby backed to survive by experienced assistant boss

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After the glory of Wembley six months before, the harsh realities of Division Two football were taking their toll on Sunderland manager Malcolm Crosby.

Sunderland Assistant Manager Malcolm Crosby

It’d been an appointment of circumstance rather than desire. Bob Murray’s subsequently admitted it himself. However, his decision to appoint Malcolm Crosby as Denis Smith’s permanent replacement – having been turned down by Steve Coppell and Neil Warnock – was a poor one. And, as the team stumbled towards the festive period everyone was feeling the pressure.

Heading into a tough game the next day, away at Marco Gabbiadini’s Derby County, Crosby was aiming to arrest a terrible start to the season that saw his side sit 21st in the table after 16 league game.

He’d only managed four wins so far; a far cry from the glorious nights we’d experienced during the previous season’s cup run.

During the summer, he’d appointed Bobby Ferguson – a no-nonsense north-east chap who’d been Bobby Robson’s assistant at Ipswich for a number of years before taking over the hot seat at Portman Road. Ferguson was responsible for bringing Terry Butcher to the club, and we all know how that played out.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Ipswich Town Photocall
Ferguson (middle row, far right) was Bobby Robson’s assistant at Ipswich
Photo by Peter Robinson - PA Images via Getty Images

Still, at this point anyway, Ferguson was very much backing Crosby to pull it around, citing Robson’s difficulties in the early days at Ipswich as evidence that Malcolm could do the same.

“He’s done well,” said Ferguson of Crosby.

“He has got a good temperament for the job. If you can come through these things [the bad run of results], I think you are better for the experience.

“I can see the players coming through it. And the players have got to get him through it. They are the ones who have been in winning positions and have thrown it away. The players are 100 per cent behind him.”

After only one win in seven, hopes weren’t too high – however, we managed to come away from the Baseball Ground the following day with a 1-0 win; Michael Gray coming off the bench at half time, Don Goodman’s early goal enough to keep the Rams at bay.

Soccer - Barclay’s League Division Two - Tranmere Rovers v Sunderland
Big Bad Don
Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

It was the start of a mini revival – we went on to win the following couple of games – but soon reverted to type.

Everyone knew we’d made a mistake appointing Crosby, and come early February he was replaced by Terry Butcher. Frying pan and fire springs to mind.

Crosby, however, does hold what I presume will be some sort of record – if it isn’t I’d be surprised.

In the record books, Crosby’s last game as manager was a 2-1 reversal at home to Watford (the midweek after the ‘It’s an easy one for Norman’ cup game at Hillsborough).

Soccer - FA Cup Fourth Round - Sunderland
‘It’s an easy one for Norman!’
Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

However that doesn’t quite tell the full story.

He was in charge of the team that headed to Tranmere for a fixture the following weekend. The game was called off due to the inclement weather, and the game decided by the Pools panel.

Hearing James Alexander Gordon read out ‘Pools panel verdict: home win’ was evidently too much for Bob Murray, who saw that as good enough reason as any to give him the push.

Which probably tells you everything you need to know about the state of the club during Crosby’s reign in charge of Sunderland.