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On This Day (30 Nov 1996): Super-sub Michael Bridges scores twice as Sunderland beat Everton!

Having gone over a month without a win, Peter Reid’s Sunderland side managed to smash three second half goals past Everton to put themselves 12th in the Premier League table!

The 1996/97 season is one when looking back that supporters feel genuinely gutted about.

Despite a litany of things going against us - chiefly, the long-term injuries to key signings that weren’t really able to play their part all that often, leaving Peter Reid with a squad low on quality, but high on grit and determination - we battled doggedly through the season when it appeared that everything was stacked against us.

As things turned out, we ended up getting relegated on the final day of the season, but for a couple of results going in our favour we would have stayed up.

But then, I think... would it have been worth it? As things transpired, we put together one of the best teams that living supporters have ever seen, and signed Kevin Phillips - undoubtedly one of the greatest goalscorers the club has ever had on their books. Fate has a funny way of working, and we were better off from the experience, but we went down that year having tried our damnedest to make things work - but, ultimately, the complete lack of a goalscorer in the squad hampered any real hope we had of kicking on.

In fact, that season our top scorers that season, finishing with just four apiece, were Paul Stewart and Craig Russell - quite staggering when you think about how the following four seasons panned out, with Reid’s team scoring for fun regardless of what league we were in.

And prior to the Everton game, Sunderland had failed to score in any of their previous five away matches - and that’s why this particular fixture seems so significant, because it was one of our highest-scoring performances in a season where we rarely hit the onion bag.

Leicester City v Sunderland Photo by Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty Images

With Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell returning to face the club where they made themselves famous, Sunderland lined up in a 4-4-1-1, with Kevin Ball captaining the side - though Dickie Ord and Paul Stewart missed out through suspension, and Niall Quinn and Tony Coton were both injured, meaning the Black Cats manager was without several players whom under normal circumstances would have started.


STARTING XI: Perez, Hall, Melville, Scott, Kubicki, Bracewell, Ball (c), Rae, Smith, Kelly, Russell. SUBS: Preece, Gray, Agnew, Aiston, Bridges.


And, in front of just over 40,000 fans that were packed into Goodison Park that afternoon, Sunderland started in a fairly reassuring fashion - giving as good as they got against an Everton side that featured some top talent in Andrei Kanchelskis and Gary Speed.

Paul Bracewell came close after just two minutes with a worm-burner of a shot that went narrowly wide, whilst Craig Russell and Alex Rae linked up on the break to set away an attack that resulted in Kevin Ball almost scoring from ten yards out.

Everton pressed to create chances of their own, but the Lads defended resolutely - though a mix-up at the back between Andy Melville and Lionel Perez almost led to the home side nicking an embarrassing opener.

They continued to press, and Paul Bracewell was called into action when clearing a shot off the line, but Sunderland had been by far the better side, and Everton had their goalkeeper to thank for ensuring they went into the break unscathed.

Soon after half-time, Joe Royle’s side got a proper chance to score when a foul from Martin Scott in the box on Graham Stuart saw Everton awarded a penalty.

Stuart stepped up to take it, but his effort was well saved by Sunderland ‘keeper Lionel Perez - and then Joe Parkinson ballsed up with the rebound.

The Everton gaffer could smell blood, and soon after half time he brought on Duncan Ferguson to try and give his side the boost that they needed in front of goal.

However, it was Sunderland who got the first goal of the game - a fine bit of hold-up play and cross from Alex Rae finding the head of Craig Russell, who nodded expertly beyond Neville Southall to silence the home crowd.

He almost bagged a second soon after, latching onto a through-ball from Bracewell which stung the fingertips of the Everton goalkeeper, bashing the outside of the post.

Everton were undeterred, though, and came close when young substitute Michael Branch lashed a shot which deflected off the top of the crossbar - eventually finding their equaliser minutes later when Ferguson scored a thumping header from the resulting corner.

Thankfully, Sunderland had a secret weapon of their own on the bench - Michael Bridges, who replaced goalscorer Russell as Reid searched for a winner with 20 minutes to go.

The youngster was only on the pitch for four minutes when he scored a rather fortuitous header that came after some superb link-up play from Bracewell and Martin Smith - the ball looping up and over Southall to put Sunderland back into the lead.

Everton went in search of an equaliser, and in pushing forward they left the gaps which led to Bridges killing off the game with his second of the afternoon - Southall saving shots from Steve Agnew and Michael Gray before the ball eventually fell to the 18-year-old striker.

Speaking to the Mirror after the game, Peter Reid said:

It’s a great day for me. To win against a strong Everton side [who are] on a roll is fantastic.

When we failed to stick away our chances early on I thought ‘here we go again’.

But, we kept going and got our just desserts.

I was delighted with Russell’s goal and then we brought on Bridges, who did the business. He’s a great prospect.

Paul Bracewell received plaudits for his performance in the following day’s edition of Sunday World in Ireland.
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