After Denis Smith’s departure, caretaker boss Malcolm Crosby oversaw an immediate turnaround. When people talk about that ‘new manager bounce’ this is it: exhibit A.
A league win over Barnsley at Roker was followed by a comfortable FA Cup victory over Port Vale. Then came another home test. Millwall, managed by ex-Boro boss Bruce Rioch, marshalled in defence by Mick McCarthy and prompted from midfield by the highly-rated Alex Rae, were a strong side who’d finished in the play-offs the season before.
It’d be the sternest test of Crosby’s credentials.
Sunderland recalled Don Goodman, who’d sat out the Port Vale game after being cup-tied, and lined up as follows:
Norman, Kay, Bennett, Rogan, Hardyman, Owers (Davenport 45), Atkinson, Bracewell, Armstong, Goodman, Byrne: Sub not used: Sampson
Millwall included McCarthy and Rae, as well as a third player with a future Sunderland connection – Kenny Cunningham. A fourth, Colin Cooper, was an unused sub. There were further north-east connections in the form of ex-Newcastle players Paul Stephenson and Ian Bogie (once labelled ‘the new Gazza’) as well as ex-Boro midfielder Paul Kerr.
John McGinley, better remembered as a Bolton stalwart, led the line.
Davison, Cunningham, McCarthy, Thompson, Dawes, Stephenson, Verveer, Rae (Falco 61), Kerr, Bogie, McGinley. Sub not used: Cooper
Sunderland took the lead on 15, Paul Hardyman – at one time a regular scorer, netting his first goal for 20 months by beating Aiden Davison at his near post.
Alex Rae equalised just after the half-hour mark after good work from Kerr – and Sunderland were lucky to go in level at half time, McGinley hitting the bar after Rogan’s misjudgment.
There was little sign of the score to come, however three goals in four minutes soon set Sunderland on their way.
The first came from Byrne, who finished well after being put through by Atkinson and Goodman extended the lead after Davenport’s neat pass.
McCarthy, who’d had a torrid game, knocked Armstrong’s cross into Goodman’s path for Don to get his second.
Goodman completed his treble in style, a close-range finish after a lovely move involving Byrne, Davenport and Kay.
Armstong gifted Kerr a consolation goal with eight minutes remaining before Davenport completed the rout.
What was already a tremendous afternoon could have been even better, however.
John Kay, at this stage in his fourth season with the club, was a huge crowd favourite and had never scored for the club.
In the dying seconds, Paul Bracewell took a quick free-kick to Davenport, who played Kay through. Kay was about to strike when Mr Alan Flood from Lancashire decided that time was up and blew his whistle to end the game. Kay finished, but both he and the keeper had no doubt heard the whistle milliseconds before.
Kay never would score for Sunderland – and that was the closest he’d ever come...
If you’ve got a spare 90 minutes give this a watch – it’s certainly a lot more entertaining than the recent games we’ve had to endure!