When you think of Gary Rowell hat-tricks, there’s always one that springs immediately to mind. But the Seaham-born striker scored an equally important treble almost four years later as Sunderland recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Terry Neill’s Arsenal, who’d finished fifth in the top flight the season before.
It was Alan Durban’s second full season at Roker Park. Having avoided relegation by just two points in his first season, he’d bolstered his young squad with the summer signing of Ian Atkins. By the time the Gunners arrived on Wearside for this December clash, veteran forward Frank Worthington had been added to the squad.
A run of no wins and six defeats in the ten league games – and Durban’s offer of resignation at the club’s AGM – preceded the fixture, and a crowd of 11,753 turned up at Roker – on the last Saturday before Christmas – to watch Durban’s bottom-of-the-table side take on Arsenal.
Sunderland lined up:
Turner, Nicholl, Munro, Atkins, Chisholm, Elliott, Venison, Rowell, Worthington, Pickering, Cummins. Sub (not used) Cooke.
In the Arsenal line-up that day were Pat Jennings, Kenny Sansom, David O’Leary, Paul Davis and Tony Woodcock, while Lee Chapman, a long-time Durban target who had played for the manager at Stoke City, was on the bench.
In the ninth minute, Rowell put Sunderland with a neat strike from the edge of the box, after good work from Venison. But, despite creating a host of chances, the candy-striped Black Cats couldn’t get a second, and relied on goalkeeper Turner to make a smart reflex save to keep out Chris Whyte’s effort.
In the 63rd minute, however, Rowell doubled the lead, slamming in the second after a defensive mix up from a Pickering cross, while the local lad completed his treble quarter of an hour later.
Iain Munro won a 50/50 tackle and played the ball to Pickering who found Rowell with pinpoint accuracy – and the man whose world we all live in did the rest.
The third goal gave me the most pleasure. That made it just my second hat-trick in league football. I’ve scored twice many times, to make it three was really enjoyable.
After the game, Durban said:
I have believed that we are not very far out as a team.
I’m not getting carried away with one result when I say that firing on all cylinders we can reach half way up the division.
The convincing win provided a boost for the team, who lost only one league game in the next 13, a run which lifted the club to 15th position and away from the relegation zone.
A subsequent downturn in form followed – no wins in eight – and left Sunderland needing a win at Highbury in the reverse fixture, which was the penultimate game of the season. A Colin West strike gave Sunderland the points, and ensured Durban started a third season in charge at Roker.
* As an aside, if you haven’t read the excellent book ‘Give Us Tomorrow Now’ by David Snowden, I highly recommend it. It’s a great read covering Durban’s time at the club – and definitely one to add to your Christmas list.