On this day in 1994, David Rush made his final appearance for Sunderland in a home fixture against Glenn Roeder’s Watford side.
Twenty-year-old Jarra Arra Craig Russell bagged two in a 2-0 victory over the Hornets, as 22-year-old Rush made the last of his 72 appearances in a Sunderland shirt as a last minute substitute for Don Goodman.
Rush’s career at Sunderland had started with a lot of promise. A regular goalscorer at youth and reserve team level, he made his debut as a 70th minute substitute for John Cornforth in a Littlewoods Cup tie at home to a Third Division Fulham side that featured former Sunderland winger Clive Walker.
His next slice of action game over a year later, when he came off the bench in a First Division game away at Selhurst Park for Marco Gabbiadini. Within ten minutes of his first league game, he’d scored to put Sunderland into the lead, prodding home from close range.
The lead didn’t last – Salako and Bright saw to that – but Rush had made his mark.
He was forced into more action as the season progressed. Talisman Gabbiadini was ruled out through injury, and Rush stepped in on eight occasions. He scored once more that season, in the reverse fixture against Palace, in which he formed an exciting partnership with Kieron Brady, who opened the scoring with a powerful drive past highly-rated keeper Nigel Martyn. Palace midfielder Alan Pardew bagged an equaliser before Rush headed the winner in the Fulwell End to give us all a bit of hope that we might have found the ingredients needed to stay up.
Of course, we hadn’t, and after relegation Denis Smith shuffled his pack – selling Gabbiadini to, ironically, Crystal Palace.
While a replacement was sought, a now 20 year old Rush was given Marco’s number 10 shirt, and in his second game scored two as we defeated Brighton 4-2. The opposition’s number 10, John Byrne, was also on the scoresheet, however – and he ultimately be the more permanent owner of the number 10 shirt.
After the signing of Byrne and Goodman, Rush found opportunities up front limited, and often played on the right hand side of midfield – a position he played in the FA Cup 5th Round replay win at Upton Park, where he scored the winner, as well as both games against Chelsea, the Norwich semi and indeed the Final against Liverpool.
Rush found himself in a difficult position in many respects – playing regularly for his hometown team, but out of position. He was the sort of player who left everything on the field – ultra hardworking and put his all into the game. But in hindsight, being played on the right of midfield did him no favours whatsoever, and he struggled to really establish himself as a striker.
He scored three in 12 the following season, and by the time 93-94 game around, it was looking as if he’d have to move on to get regular football. Loan spells at Hartlepool, Peterborough and Cambridge had been solid rather than spectacular, and despite a steady stream of managers – Smith, Crosby, Butcher and now Buxton – he’d not convinced any of them. He’d started Butcher’s first game in charge and never started for the ex-England skipper again, and didn’t manage a single start under Buxton.
The Watford game was his final action at Roker, as an 89th minute sub, and he departed for Oxford the following summer for a fee of £100,000.
At that point, Oxford were managed by the man who’d given Rush his first taste of first team action, Denis Smith. Malcolm Crosby, who’d got the best out of Rush at Sunderland, was Smith’s assistant. Rush played 92 times for Oxford, scoring 21 goals, and helped them win promotion from what is now League One into the Championship.
After short spells at York and Hartlepool, Rush dropped out of league football, aged just 28.
It was a career that maybe didn’t live up to its early promise – but scoring goals in the top flight and playing in an FA Cup Final for your boyhood club? Doesn’t get much better, does it?