Arsenal had been frequent visitors to Roker Park over the years and had more often than not left to head back down to the big smoke with three points in tow - but not on this occasion, which also turned out to be their last-league visit to the famous old ground, and the second game of a trilogy against The Gunners at the turn of the year.
The Lads had drawn Arsene Wenger’s side in the FA Cup third round, a game which was played at Highbury on the 4th January and finished one-all. As things turned out, we were already scheduled to play them in the league on the 11th, with the FA Cup replay slotted just four days later back at Roker Park, meaning that both sets of players had plenty of time to get to know one another over the course of eleven days.
The league tie was more important than the cup game for both teams - Arsenal were challenging right up the top of the table and needed to keep winning games to ensure they kept up the pace with Manchester United, whilst Sunderland were nestled nicely in 11th place following a solid first half of their debut season in the Premier League.
Making his league debut on the day was 19-year-old Darren Williams, who had been at the club since October following his move from York City, and Reid selected a fairly young side all in all, with John Mullin and Micky Bridges starting up top. Williams replaced the injured Steve Agnew in the centre of the park, who broke his wrist in the cup game at Highbury, and had the task of going toe-to-toe in battle with the indomitable Patrick Vieira.
It was the away side who started strongest, with John Hartson going close after just six minutes, but the home crowd played their part and got right on the back of David Platt after he was handed a yellow card, booing his every touch and jeering whenever he came near the ball.
The balance tipped in Sunderland’s favour after half an hour when Dennis Bergkamp uncharacteristically found himself heading for an early bath, going over the top during a tussle with Paul Bracewell which earned him a straight red card.
The veteran midfielder was left writhing in agony after apparently being caught around the knee, but he was able to resume following treatment.
The Gunners didn’t step off though, and Hartson riled up the Sunderland fans further when he went studs up on Dickie Ord, leaving the defender in a heap with a challenge that went unpunished by the referee.
Having gone in level at half time, it wasn’t until the 66th minute when the first - and only - goal of the game was found, and it was in rather bizarre circumstances which The Lads managed to take the lead.
Following a Dickie Ord cross from the left-hand side, Tony Adams swung a boot at the ball in an attempt to clear, but judged it horribly and sent the ball beyond a helpless David Seaman and into the net to give Sunderland a valuable lead, sending the home fans scatty.
The Arsenal and England keeper made a desperate bid to get a hand on the ball, but the power of Adams’ deflection took it beyond him.
It proved to be the winner, despite the Gunners’ efforts to frantically retrieve the situation.
All in all, it was a day to forget for Arsene and his men!
SUNDERLAND: Perez, Hall, Melville, Ord, Kubicki, Kelly, Williams, Bracewell, Gray, Mullin, Bridges. SUBS: Preece, Eriksson, Aiston, Russell, Heckingbottom.
ARSENAL: Seaman, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams, Platt, Merson, Bergkamp, Keown, Parlour, Hartson. SUBS: Linighan, Morrow, Shaw, Hughes, Lukic.