After returning from an ill-fated ‘friendly’ in Sweden – which saw Barry Venison, Paul Lemon and Clive Walker sent off, and Gary Bennett and Howard Gayle substituted due to the racist abuse they were receiving - Sunderland had returned to domestic action in relatively good form, continuing a six match unbeaten run before they had headed off to face Hammarby IF.
A 2-2 draw away at Sheffield Wednesday was respectable, and a 0-0 second leg scoreline away at Crystal Palace in the Milk Cup second round saw Sunderland progress to the third round, where Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest lay in wait.
As the team limbered up for a return to Roker Park action against Norwich City – who, of course, would feature heavily in our season – manager Len Ashurst received the welcome news that the referee of the friendly game was taking a rather lenient view of the red card offences, and suspensions, therefore, would be unlikely.
We have just received a letter that informs us that the referee is making a report to the Swedish FA but his is also commenting that some of the incidents were slight offences.
Coming into the game against Norwich, Sunderland were eight games unbeaten in all competitive competition – although six of those games had ended level – and the home fixture against Ken Brown’s Norwich seemed a good opportunity to get more points on the board. Norwich, however, had been something of a bogey team for Sunderland – knocking us out of the Milk Cup in both of the previous two seasons.
Venison and Walker were in the team that lined up to face the Canaries, who featured a 23-year-old centre half by the name of Steve Bruce in their line up. Bruce had joined Norwich from Gillingham in the summer, and lined up alongside future Everton and England defender Dave Watson (not our Dave Watson), with former Manchester City stalwart Joe Corrigan keeping goal.
Sunderland: Turner, Venison, Pickering, Bennett, Chisholm, Elliott, Daniel. Gayle, Wylde, Berry, Walker. Sub: West.
Norwich: Corrigan. Haylock, Devine, Bruce, Mendham, Watson, Gordon, Channon, Deehan, Hartford, Donowa. Sub: Farrington.
And it was Gayle who opened the scoring after only eight minutes, with a firm drive into the far corner.
Sunderland went in at half time a goal to the good, and despite some second half pressure from Norwich it looked as though the home team would hold out – until the 82nd minute, when former England striker Mick Channon scored a superb goal to equalise.
Asa Hartford’s shot was blocked, but Channon picked up the ball, skipped in between two defenders, and put home a great shot to draw the game level – cue windmill celebrations.
It was Sunderland, however, who had the last laugh, and Channon flopped to the ground in despair as we grabbed an injury time winner.
Steve Berry, a free transfer signing from Portsmouth, beat Corrigan with a low shot from 10 yards to seal the points.
There was still time for a late scare – Watson rattled the crossbar from 30 yards – but Sunderland hung on to a result that lifted us to 9th place in the division.
Despite the victory, the general mood was one of frustration – frustrated that we hadn’t won in a more convincing manner. A team with aspirations of a top of the table finish should be beating teams like Norwich at home much more convincingly, was the general consensus.
Goalscorer Gayle said:
There is still a lot for us to do yet. We have got to start believing in ourselves and get into that top six.
The league has never been so wide open for years. If we can get it together we can destroy most sides at home It’s no use being satisfied with what we have done so far.
The gaffer gave us a rollicking after the match and we deserved it all right.
And the season looked to be heading in the right direction – 3-0- home wins against Luton and QPR followed, and lifted the club up to 7th place in the table.
Nothing could possibly go wrong from here...