Sunderland had made a reasonable start to the 1996-97 season, their first season in the Premiership, but came into the Middlesbrough game on the back of an infamous defeat at Arsenal in which referee Paul Danson had sent off both Martin Scott and Paul Stewart before half time.
With manager Peter Reid raging on the sidelines, Danson also sent the Sunderland boss into the stands, and whilst he later admitted that he was wrong to dismiss Stewart it was of little consolation to the Lads, who fought bravely but fell to two late goals.
The decision to uphold Scott’s red card also meant a change to the starting line up against Middlesbrough, with Reid naming the following side;
Coton, Hall, Melville, Ord, Kubicki, Gray, Ball, Bracewell, Agnew, Rae, Stewart
Subs: Perez, Howey, Kelly, Bridges, Russell
There was further disruption when an early injury to Steve Agnew forced him to be replaced by Craig Russell with less than ten minutes played and Sunderland had to endure more bad luck when Emerson’s long range shot brushed off Paul Bracewell to leave Tony Coton grasping at thin air as the visitors took the lead. The effort was on target and would have tested Coton anyway, but the deflection was enough to leave him without a chance.
Undeterred, Sunderland soon drew themselves level after being awarded a penalty when Phil Whelan fouled Stewart as the pair attempted to meet a Dariusz Kubicki cross. With regular penalty taker Scott not on the pitch it was given to Alex Rae, who struck the ball underneath the dive of Alan Miller.
With both sides giving it full pelt those watching the game on Monday Night Football were getting plenty of entertainment, but a Fabrizio Ravanelli goal following a goalmouth scramble had Sunderland on the back foot once more. The situation got even worse five minutes later when Richard Ord, himself only just back in the side following suspension after he got sent off at Derby County, uncharacteristically ‘trampled’ on Nick Barmby and was shown red again.
Ord, still incensed that Graham Poll had not disallowed Ravanelli’s effort despite several fouls in the build-up it, overreacted to being in a tussle with Barmby but at a time when he was reported to be in consideration for an England call up, he later admitted that it did his cause no good. Sunderland’s immediate concern however was having to avoid another defeat, so step forward Kevin Ball.
The Sunderland skipper was in fine form all evening, harrying opponents throughout and pushing the side on. He won possession with half an hour left and after driving into the box delivered an inch-perfect pass for the incoming Russell to score the equaliser at the far post.
It was a well timed run from the ‘Jarra Arra’ but the numerical disadvantage meant the Lads had to dig in from then on, with Ball marshalling the troops throughout.
Unsurprisingly for the last ever derby at Roker Park the match was at times frantic, but on a busy day which had begun with the arrival of Darren Williams from York City Sunderland did enough to ensure a hard-earned point on this date in 1996.