Despite only turning 21-years-old in January 1989, Marco Gabbiadini’s reputation was spreading and in only his second season at Roker Park he was heavily linked with a move to Celtic.
After firing Sunderland back into the second division at the first time of asking by contributing 21 league goals to Sunderland’s promotion, Gabbiadini had showed this was no fluke, and had already notched 18 goals in all competitions in his third season at Roker before the visit of Ipswich Town in March.
Although our top marksman was finding his feet in the second tier, Sunderland had endured a rollercoaster return after our fleeting visit to Division Three. Denis Smith’s side experienced a bumpy start, finding ourselves 19th in mid-October. Good form over the festive period however, propelled Sunderland into 6th and in contention of a play-off position.
Dreams of consecutive promotions ensued at Roker Park, but seven defeats in nine during February and March leading up to the visit of John Duncan’s Ipswich Town, made us once again grateful for mid-table mediocrity.
Ipswich were flying prior to visiting Wearside and were fifth in Barclays League Division Two, but just after the half hour mark a long ball forward caused them problems at the back. After getting the wrong side of Gabbiadini in the penalty area, David Linighan wrestled him to the ground giving the referee no option but to point at the spot.
Gabbiadini himself took the spot kick at the Roker End and struck it confidently straight down the middle to open the scoring. It was a slender lead that at times looked fragile as Chris Kiwomya spurned countless opportunities for the Tractor Boys.
It was just before the hour mark when Sunderland finally earned some breathing space, when Gary Owers scored a neat half volley from the edge of the area. It might have been a two-goal cushion but Ipswich still threatened to begin a comeback, which setup a last few minutes that I would hope most of the 13,859 stayed to witness.
With two minutes left on the clock, Gabbiadini charged down a clearance on the Ipswich right hand side in front of the Clock Stand paddocks and charged with the ball into the penalty area before slotting home underneath the keeper.
It might have settled the three points but there was still drama to come.
A neat one-two between Gabbiadini and Gates on the edge of the box a minute later, led to the goalkeeper bringing down Marco in front of the Fulwell End for another penalty to Sunderland. The Ipswich players rounded on the referee with claims the front man took a dive, but the man in the middle waved them away.
Once again Gabbiadini stepped up to take the penalty, this time to claim a hat-trick, but the goalkeeper saved – and Marco put away the rebound to complete his treble.
As he turned to celebrate, Ipswich Town defender, and Newcastle United fan Tony Humes ran into Gabbiadini, which caused a slight reaction from Marco as he instinctively turned and threw his arm out making contact with Humes.
After running about 30 yards to avoid the demonstrations of Eric Gates and Gordon Armstrong, the referee finally held up the red card and showed the Sunderland striker his marching orders.
According to Sunderland-born boxer Billy Hardy who was in attendance, it wasn’t even a decent punch.
He hardly connected. More of a slap.
He might have wished he’d made it more worthwhile as Denis Smith ignored him as he went down the tunnel as he contemplated four games without his top goalscorer.
Sunderland 4 - 0 Ipswich Town
(Gabbiadini 36’, 88’, 89’, Owers 55’ - Gabbiadini sent-off 90’)
Sunderland: Norman, Kay, MacPhail, Ord, F. Gray, Owers, Hay (Lemon), Armstrong, Pascoe, Hauser (Gates), Gabbiadini
Ipswich Town: Fearon, Baltacha, Humes, Zondervan, D’Avray, Linighan, Milton, Kiwomya, Wark, Atkinson, Hill Substitutes not used: Lowe, Johnson