Denis Smith’s Red and White Army were making waves during the early stages of the 1989-90 Division Two campaign. A couple of impressive wins and a series of draws against some of the more fancied teams in the division had put the Lads right in the thick of the chasing pack, and 32 years ago today they further emphasised their credentials with a deserved win on home soil.
Bournemouth had also started the season in decent form, but with summer arrival Paul Hardyman settling in well and the ‘G Force’ of Eric Gates and Marco Gabbiadini firing on all cylinders Sunderland’s line up looked very strong;
SUNDERLAND: Carter, Kay, Bennett, MacPhail, Hardyman, Owers, Bracewell, Armstrong, Gates, Gabbiadini, Pascoe.
There had been little reason for Smith to tinker with his starting XI in the opening weeks. The team were performing well as a unit and in this game were quickly into their stride once more, going ahead within 20 minutes when Gates stabbed home the rebound following Gary Bennett’s shot that hit the post. It was somewhat of a surprise therefore when Bournemouth got back into through a John MacPhail own goal, and even more of a shock to the Roker faithful when Luther Blissett put the visitors ahead early in the second half.
Sunderland were not behind for long however and were soon back in business, with Gabbiadini levelling things up two minutes later. The first goal of the game had been slightly scruffy, with the Cherries failing to clear the danger twice in the build-up, but this one was vintage stuff from the G Force. The move started with MacPhail bringing the ball out of defence and feeding Gates, who didn’t even need to look for his strike partner before instinctively turning and putting the ball through for him to run onto. Like so many times before Gabbiadini was onto it like a flash and almost inevitably, he burst into the box before finishing calmly.
The equaliser was a good goal, but an even better move saw the Rokermen retake the lead. MacPhail was again instrumental, playing the ball into the middle for Bracewell and then Gordon Armstrong to work onto the left wing and into the overlapping Hardyman, whose cross was inch-perfect for Gates to slip his marker and nod home. Although there was still half an hour left to go it was enough to give Sunderland the points and even put them into the automatic promotion spots for a week.
Defeat followed at table-toppers Leeds United seven days later but Sunderland rarely fell out of the Play-Off places during the season. Bournemouth had to make the trek back up to Wearside for a Littlewoods Challenge Cup tie later in the month and whilst the Lads reached the quarter-final stages of that competition it was in the league where they really flourished. Having finished the previous season only a place above the Cherries this one ended with the clubs heading in very different directions, with Bournemouth being relegated and Sunderland earning promotion despite losing to Swindon Town in the Play-Off final.
Sunderland’s return to Division One was eventually sealed after Swindon were found guilty of making illegal payments, but they wouldn’t have even been in the frame were it not a strong showing in the regular season that was characterised by several entertaining wins such as the one against Bournemouth on this day in 1989.