On this day in 1990, Denis Smith was still seething after a 3-1 home defeat to Oldham Athletic the evening prior had left his newly promoted team wondering what on earth they were in for during the coming season.
Second division Oldham found themselves three up at half time, and – having departed the field to ‘the boos of 4,637 fans ringing in their ears’, the Sunderland team had to face the wrath of Smith.
“I gave them the biggest rollicking they’ve had since I first came to the club – if that had been a First Division side we would have been ten goals down at half time,” he said.
With only two additions to bolster the squad in readiness for First Division action – Kevin Ball and Peter Davenport, both signed from Second Division clubs – the scene was set for a tough season ahead.
Ball, the match report said, was having difficulty in settling into the middle of the back four, while Davenport – other than one or two good touches – was experiencing problems as he tried to forge a goalscoring partnership with Gabbiadini.
Ball’s pre-season form wasn’t too promising. An own goal in a heavy 4-1 home defeat to Torpedo Moscow three days earlier, compounded by a shaky display against Oldham, saw him sit out of the opening day defeat to Norwich ten days later.
Davenport played – and scored – against Norwich, however never really forged the same level of understanding that Eric Gates had previously had with Gabbiadini.
In truth, no one ever did.