Sunderland: Hesford, Kay, Agboola, Corner, MacPhail, Owers, Cornforth, Doyle, Gates, Gabbiadini, Atkinson (Gray ‘71) Unused Sub: Lemon
York City: Endersby, Branagan (Hood ‘71), Johnson, Wilson, Whitehead, Clegg, McKenzie (Staniforth ‘61), Mills, Helliwell, Banton, Tuthill
The fourth-biggest crowd anywhere in the football League turned up for this Division Three game at Roker Park, with top-of-the-table Sunderland hosting York City, the club that had only recently supplied both our manager and our star striker.
Denis Smith had cut his teeth as a boss at Bootham Crescent, and when he took on the job of getting Sunderland out of the third tier at the first attempt, had made bringing Marco Gabbiadini up the A19 as his marquee signing a top priority.
York City, managed by Bobby Saxton, were yet to record a win as they came into this fixture, but they didn’t lie down and let Sunderland steamroller them. Iain Hesford in the Sunderland goal was on the promise of a £50 clean-sheet bonus, but this wasn’t a day for unbolted copy-books - too much emotion was involved on both sides.
Even though the Lads got off to a flyer, with John Cornforth scoring after 5 minutes after Gabbiadini had nodded the ball into his path, the visitors drew level minutes later through former West Ham forward Dale Banton, who scrambled the ball home after hitting the post.
Marco made it seven in seven on 38 minutes, and then his strike partner Eric Gates scored a third to send the home side in two goals ahead at the break.
However, York came back into it in the middle of the second half, Simon Mills - who Smith had brought to the club from Sheffield Wednesday two years earlier, popped up with a header to make it 3-2.
A wonderful through ball from Gary Owers gave Cornforth the opportunity to seal the result, which he did with aplomb.
Smith was delighted with the result, but was also conscious that the links between him, his star striker, and the opposition had given the game an extra edge, as he explained to Paul Hetherington in The Journal:
We scored four again, as we did against Wigan and Mansfield, but our performance was nowhere near as good as in those games.
I’m just glad to get this game out of the way. Psychologically, because of the connections between the clubs and the positions in the league, it’s the hardest game we have had this season.
The Lads feel they have let down the fans. I’m happy with the result but the performance was scrappy. When he was in front of goal at times, Marco seemed to be thinking about the fact that he was playing against his old club, but he has still won the game for us.