Meetings between Spurs and Sunderland at White Hart Lane down the years, have often produced some memorable and exciting encounters.
There was our 2-1 Milk Cup fourth replay win there in December 1984, in no small way inspired by a heroic performance by Chris Turner, who’d also performed wonders in the first game at Roker to thus earn us a second bite at the cherry.
Then there was the first (and so far only) second-tier meeting in April 1978, when despite having nothing to play for ourselves, we still managed to give Spurs a touch of the promotion jitters, with a rather surprising 3-2 win.
Then, in early December, 1990, ourselves and Spurs turned on the style to present a crowd of just over 30,000 with an early Christmas present of sorts, courtesy of a six-goal thriller.
Sunderland were in fact looking to improve on a rather lacklustre record at London grounds in 1990-91. Arsenal & Chelsea had both beaten us by the odd goal, even though it took disputed penalties to see us to leave both Highbury & Stamford Bridge empty-handed. In fact, our sole reward on trips to the capital so far that season had come when we’d picked up a point from a 2-2 draw at Wimbledon, though it has to be said that we did squander a two-goal lead.
Would it then be a case of fourth time lucky at White Hart Lane, as we sought what would be our first top-flight win at that particular venue, since our First Division relegation season of 1969-70?
It would certainly be a stiff challenge against Terry Venables’ fourth-placed Spurs side, who’d held us to 0-0 draw in an entertaining clash at Roker back in August in what was our first home game in the top flight for five years.
And, fielding an unchanged line-up for the fourth game running, we began brightly. In fact, the Lads could have taken a first-minute lead as Paul Hardyman floated a ball in from the left which caused a certain amount of panic in the Spurs defence; David Howells hurried his clearance, which landed at the feet of Peter Davenport. Davenport sent in a left-footed shot, but while it had Spurs keeper Erik Thorsvedt scrambling rather frantically across his line, it was also just wide of the target.
The game was frenetic, moving from end to end, but just as Spurs broke again, this time through Paul Gascoigne, a Paul Bracewell challenge on the ex-Newcastle midfielder set up the move that led to us taking a tenth-minute lead.
Gary Owers picked up the ball and Marco Gabbiadini who, after playing a one-two with Peter Davenport, crossed the ball. Marco’s cross eluded Gary Mabbutt to find Gordon Armstrong, and while Armstrong’s powerful effort was blocked on the line by Erik Thorsvedt, Colin Pascoe was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Peter Davenport then fired a powerful effort straight at Thorsvedt, then a promising move involving Davenport, Gary Bennett & Paul Hardyman was halted by Justin Edinburgh, as we continued to call the tune.
But Spurs were by no means out of it, something which was emphasized when Paul Gascoigne curled in a shot that was only just too high. The home side kept up the pressure, and Gascoigine and Paul Allen tested our defence with some dangerous passing.
However, after having dealt capably with that sustained spell of Spurs pressure, we then hit back to increase our lead in the twenty-third minute, with another well-worked goal. Paul Bracewell again started the move with a firm challenge, and found Gary Owers, who in turn played the ball on Marco Gabbiadini. And while Marco’s intended pass for Peter Davenport struck Gary Mabbuttt, the ball broke kindly for Davenport, who beat Erik Thorsvedt with a firm, low drive.
2-0, things were looking promising.
Spurs then responded strongly to this latest setback, and they thought they’d pulled a goal back, but Paul Allen’s powerful headed effort was ruled out for an infringement. There was then a moment of panic in our defence when Tony Norman dropped a centre after he was challenged by Paul Stewart, though thankfully we gained a free-kick after the referee ruled that our Welsh stopper had been fouled.
But the home side continued to press in their bid to get back into the game, and Gary Bennett & John Kay in particular had to be alert to relieve one or two dangerous situations. Sunderland nearly added a third goal before the half time interval. After Gary Owers had surged through the middle, he tried to lob Erik Thorsvedt, was well off his line, but the giant keeper was able to back-pedal and take the ball under his crossbar.
It was 2-0 then at the break, and it had been a sound first half’s work. Could we then keep it up, and go on to record a rather memorable win?
Well, Marco Gabbiadini had the ball in the Spurs net again, but unfortunately he’d been caught offside, and his effort was disallowed. Then a free-kick from Paul Gascoigne picked out Gary Lineker in a good position; thankfully, Kevin Ball intervened smartly to clear the danger.
Spurs now gradually began to assert more control on the game, and the substitution of Paul Walsh for Justin Edinburgh seemed to add a new dimension to the host’s game. While we subjected the home defence to one or two anxious moments, courtesy of Gary Bennett, Marco Gabbiadini & Gary Owers, it was our own back line that began to come under the greatest pressure, and as such, it was no real surprise when Spurs pulled a goal back just after the hour-mark.
A foul by Paul Hardyman on Nayim led to Paul Gascogine quickly taking the free-kick, and he found substitute Walsh, who forced the ball home at the near post. Boosted by this goal, Spurs were a different proposition now. Tony Norman saved well from Paul Walsh; however, the Welsh stopper failed to hold the ball. Fortunately, when the ball broke loose to David Howells, he fired high and wide.
But the home side’s persistence surely had to tell, and this it did, when they drew level in the sixty-ninth minute, though there was an element of luck involved. Tony Norman looked to have had a shot from Paul Walsh from outside the areas covered, until the ball took a wicked deflection of Gordon Armstrong, and left the keeper flat-footed. Game on.
Paul Walsh then shot weakly at Tony Norman as Spurs now sensed a win, but then rather incredibly, we regained the lead with fifteen minutes left to play. Marco Gabbiadini played a neat through ball a rather static Spurs defence to find Colin Pascoe, who gleefully slid the ball past Erik Thorsvedt.
Unsurprisingly, Spurs came back at us, and Tony Norman had to save well twice from Paul Walsh, before he collected a centre from Nayim. But then right at the death, the keeper and his colleagues alike were no doubt stunned - likewise their manager and the travelling fans - when Spurs drew level again.
A left-wing cross from Paul Walsh picked out Gary Lineker, who headed powerfully past Tony Norman, to rescue a point for his side, when all had possibly seemed lost.
So, the game ended 3-3 and it had certainly been an entertaining affair. Perhaps a draw was a fair result overall, though we possibly had cause to be aggrieved not to have taken maximum points, after having led twice.
So we remained winless in London in 1990-91, and this record was to continue as our next two away fixtures, also in the capital, at Crystal Palace & QPR, both ended in defeat - this after we’d led in both games. In fact, the loss at Loftus Road actually meant that we slipped into the bottom three for the first time in the campaign.
This rather alarming inability to hold onto a potential winning lead was to haunt us on several occasions in 1990-91, and was a contributing factor to our immediate relegation from the top flight at the end of the season.
Our attacking play had at times been rather enterprising, as had been the case at White Hart Lane, and had earned us many admirers during the season, but defensively we’d been found wanting on too many occasions. As sad as it was, after our rather inevitable demotion at the end of 1990-91, we’d then spend several seasons in “the wilderness” of the Second Division, before we got the chance to test ourselves against Spurs and like once more.