Saturday was another in a long list of ‘SAFC debuts that didn’t quite go to plan’ and on this day in 1991 there was another – as Don Goodman pulled on a Sunderland shirt for the first time to make his debut against Wolves at Molineux.
Since Marco Gabbiadini’s departure to Crystal Palace over a couple of months earlier, speculation had been rife about who the goalscoring replacement would be.
John Byrne – a creative forward – had been signed a few weeks earlier from Brighton, and while he’d taken on Marco’s number 10 shirt, he wasn’t the type of player who’d replace the dynamic striker’s goals.
Leicester’s Republic of Ireland striker David Kelly had been strongly linked, with significant substance, too, only for the move to collapse due to personal terms not being agreed. Kelly went to Newcastle, and we all know what happened there.
Instead, Smith cast his net a little further and eventually landed West Brom striker Don Goodman for a fee of £900,000 plus add ons – smashing the club’s present transfer record of £450,000 for Tony Norman (a valuation that actually included Billy Whitehurst and Steve Doyle travelling in the opposite direction) into smithereens.
Goodman, who became the North East’s record signing, had a decent record at West Brom – scoring 60 in 158 games, primarily in the then second division, and it was hoped he’d be able to kick on under Smith’s management.
Smith had been under tremendous pressure, with the team sitting in 15th place after an unfortunate relegation the previous season. He’d just parted company with assistant Viv Busby, in an attempt to freshen things up, and of the Goodman signing he said:
I’ve been trying to sign him ever since Gabbiadini left but I didn’t think he’d ever give in. It took four hours of talking with him and his agent to sort everything out. I just wish I had been able to get the deal through six weeks ago.
He’s quick, strong, brave and scores goals. We needed a cutting edge, and I think Goodman will supply that.
Forty eight hours after signing, Goodman made his debut at Molineux alongside Byrne in attack.
However, it was a debut to forget, as Sunderland had not one but two players sent off before the ten minute mark had passed.
Firstly, Goodman’s strike partner Byrne was shown red on six minutes or disputing the award of a goal kick to the hosts, rather than a corner to the visitors; the linesman taking umbrage at his choice of adjective.
Before Byrne had the chance to get into the dressing room to remove his white Hummel shirt, he’d likely have heard the noise of studs jogging in the direction he’d just travelled.
Remarkably, Armstrong was shown red 60 seconds later. Even more remarkably, it was for the same offence. To the same linesman. Post match, Byrne wondered whether they were priests. It mattered not – and only divine intervention was going to be enough to salvage anything from Goodman’s debut.
It nearly arrived in the form of Tony Norman, who somehow managed to keep Wolves at bay until late in the second half, when a Bennett slip allowed classy midfielder Paul Cook – he who was linked heavily to the recent Sunderland managerial vacancy – to drive home a lovely volley. Another defeat, and pressure mounted on Smith as the team fell to 19th position in the league.
In the run up to Goodman’s home debut against Leicester the following week, fanzine ALS announced they’d be running a ‘Smith in or out’ poll before the game – with a number of volunteers taking supporters’ votes to assess just how large the ‘vocal minority’ was who’d been chanting for Smith to leave.
I remember being resolutely ‘Smith In’ at this point and voting accordingly – and I was in the majority, 57% backing the manager who’d done so much to breathe new life into the club after relegation to the third tier.
Goodman’s home debut was memorable for the right reasons this time – he leapt to head in a last minute Paul Bracewell cross into the net at the Roker End – incidentally the only end Goodman seemed capable of scoring in during his first 12 months at the club.
The goal gave Smith a much needed 1-0 victory to go with the backing received from the supporters – however it was a stay of execution more than anything else.
That goal would be the only one Goodman would score for Smith at Sunderland. A 1-0 home win over Portsmouth was followed by 1-0 and 3-0 reversals away at Tranmere and Oxford and Smith was gone before the new year was rung in.
The sacking – or caretaker Malcolm Crosby – provoked a reaction from the team which led to five wins in six. And while the likes of Neil Warnock and Steve Coppell were heavily linked, it was Crosby – thanks to the FA Cup run – who ended up getting the job.
As for Goodman, he scored 11 in 20 league starts (missing the cup run due to playing for West Brom in the first round) and went on to score 47 goals in 128 starts.
A hardworking, physical forward, Goodman’s impressive leap and pace made him a constant threat for Sunderland. He departed under Mick Buxton during the 94-95 season, joining Wolves in the belief that they’d reach the Premier League sooner.
Under Mick Buxton, he was right. However, he hadn’t imagined the impact Peter Reid would have only months later.
To be fair, he wasn’t the only one.