Having missed out on promotion on the final day of the season during the 1978-79 season, Sunderland – under new manager Ken Knighton – had made something of an indifferent start to the new campaign; sitting in 13th place in October, before a run of one defeat in seven lifted the team back up into the top quarter of the table before an end-of-year visit to bottom-of-the-table Fulham.
With a New Year’s Day north-east derby away at Newcastle soon to follow, the lads were in optimistic mood ahead of the trip to west London – although that was tinged with a heavy dose of caution, given they hadn’t won an away game all season.
The team was beset by injury concerns – £300,000 summer signing Stan Cummins had been ruled out, while Mick Buckley, Shaun Elliott and Jeff Clarke were all rated as doubtful.
Clarke told The Journal’s Bill Bradshaw:
This problem with injuries isn’t the best way to prepare for the match. We’ve had more than our fair share of bad luck an it looked as though we were clear of knocks.
But it would be nice to bring the curtain down on 1979 with our first away win – we are certainly due to bring two points back from an away match.
As it turned out. Buckley – who’d been injured in the Boxing Day draw with Wrexham –, Elliott and Clarke all started the game, alongside John Hawley, who was returning from injury.
Also in the starting line up were Kevin Arnott, whose late strike had rescued a point three days earlier – and Claudio Marangoni, our Argentinian record signing, who had arrived from San Lorenzo a few weeks before and had made his debut in the early December win at home to Cardiff, and scored his first goal for the club in a 2-1 home win over Shrewsbury.
A scrappy first half, which saw little in the way of goalmouth action, sprung to life in the second 45 – and Marangoni was the key protagonist; scoring a beautiful goal past keeper Gerry Peyton after 55 minutes after being slipped in by the busy Kevin Arnott.
Pop Robson almost got a second for the lads, who were thankful for the tremendous form of keeper Chris Turner, who made three excellent saves, one from Gordon Davies and two from sub Brian Greenaway.
The game finished 1-0, securing a first away victory of the season, and chants of ‘Claudio’ emanating from the packed away end as the impressive new signing sealed the two points.
After the game, Marangoni said:
I’m pleased so many Sunderland fans were at Fulham to see the goal. I am playing better away from home. The visitors at Roker come and defend and mark closely.
Manager Knighton was a relieved man.
We know things were not going well, and I’d like to think we’re now doing something about it. We are stringing together some useful results – that’s five without defeat now.
In fact, we have not lost since Claudio Marangoni came into the side. I was delighted for the lad today – it wasn’t a bad goal to give us that first away win, was it?
But it was a real team effort. Perhaps a scrappy game to watch, but we deserved to come out on top.
It was a valuable win too. While we succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at St James Park on New Years Day, the team lost only one more game during the season – securing promotion back to the top flight at the third time of asking.
Fulham 0-1 Sunderland
Craven Cottage, 9591.
Sunderland: Turner, Whitworth, Bolton, Clarke, Elliott, Buckley, Arnott, Marangoni, Hawley (Brown 80), Robson, Rowell.
Fulham: Peyton, Peters, Strong, Money, Banton, Gale, Marinello, Beck, Davies, Maybank, Lock (Greenaway 57)
Goal: Marangoni 55