The story of Sunderland’s 1981 win at Anfield is justly famed.
A final day of the season victory for the Lads ensured top-flight status and that they would continue to pit their wits against the best in the coming seasons – and during those times Liverpool really were the very best.
By the time the two clubs clashed on this day in 1983 they had met on five occasions since that shock success, and the record was now stacked heavily in the Reds’ favour with four wins and a draw. They started the 1983-84 campaign as reigning league champions and holders of the League Cup too, meaning their guests arrived on Merseyside 39 years ago today as clear underdogs – just as they had two years earlier.
It was a daunting task therefore for Alan Durban’s charges, made even harder as it came on the back of three successive league defeats on the road.
The squad was coming along nicely however under their forward-thinking manager and his team gave a tantalising glimpse of what they were capable of when things clicked – despite everything they produced another astonishing win in the toughest of environments; and they fully deserved it too.
Key to the performance was a brilliant defensive display, led by captain Ian Atkins.
He and his colleagues managed to keep a star-studded lineup that included the likes of Footballer of the Year Kenny Dalglish and the man that would finish the season as the First Division’s top scorer, Ian Rush, at bay.
It meant that Chris Turner had a relatively quiet afternoon in goal, although he did produce one typically impressive reflex save to keep out an effort from Alan Kennedy. The Sunderland-born defender later hit the woodwork, but by that stage, he had seen his hometown club take the lead.
Just as supporters had come to expect sharp goalkeeping from Turner, they were also used to seeing a fan favourite make penalty taking look easy, and so it proved once again. The Lads were awarded a spot kick in front of the Kop just before the half hour mark from which no mistake was made – Liverpool band the Beatles may have written Yellow Submarine, but it was the Rokerites that were well and truly living in a Gary Rowell World at this point.
In front of Atkins sat Mark Proctor, who worked hard to minimise the impact Graeme Souness could have on the match. It made a big difference to the flow of the game and allowed Sunderland to see plenty of the ball, which they regularly looked to put to good use. Although they made several breaks of their own however there was a real scare when Michael Robinson netted only to be adjudged to be offside – it was the closest Liverpool came to a goal in the second half and they were well contained thereafter.
This was recognised by the home crowd, who at full time gave Durban’s side a generous round of applause. They had just witnessed the first of what would be only two Anfield defeats all season, their campaign seeing them eventually retain both their league title and League Cup as well as adding the European Cup to the trophy cabinet thanks to a winning penalty from Kennedy.
That honour roll emphasises just how remarkable Sunderland’s efforts were, and they proved it was no fluke when later in the campaign they earned a 0-0 draw in the return game on Wearside. It was the away fixture that really caught the eye though, and it was every bit as impressive as the one in 1981.
Saturday 1 October 1983
Canon League Division One
Sunderland 1 (Rowell 29)
Sunderland: Turner; Venison, Atkins, Chisholm, Elliott; Bracewell, Proctor, Rowell, James; Pickering, West. Unused: Cooke
Anfield, attendance 29,534