In the first half of 1992 there was reason for optimism around Sunderland that the club could have a successful 1992-93 season. Although our league form only picked up briefly following Malcolm Crosby being placed in temporary charge after the sacking of Denis Smith, our FA Cup run gave the players a platform to show off their talents.
Despite the cup victories over Premier League opposition such as West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City, we couldn’t find consistency in Barclays League Division Two, and would eventually finish 18th - one place lower in the table than where we stood on the day Smith lost his job.
Reaching the FA Cup final had provided hope going into the summer of 1992, but this was soon extinguished when it quickly became apparent that Crosby was not being backed in the transfer market to rebuild the squad.
Only three new faces joined the ranks in the summer months, Terry Butcher, Shaun Cunnington and John Colquhoun, and all three made their debut on the opening day of the season, which ended in a 1-0 defeat at Swindon Town thanks to a Glenn Hoddle goal.
This set the tone for the season from the off and by mid-November, two days before a live clash against Leicester City at Roker Park, we sat 20th in the newly named Barclays League Division One following the introduction of the Premier League, with only four wins in the first 15 games of the season.
Things felt pretty desperate and even though we a had some talent in the ranks in the striking department, with the likes of Don Goodman, Peter Davenport, John Colquhoun and David Rush, we found goals hard to come by and had scored 14 in the first 15 fixtures.
It was at this point that speculation ramped up on sorts of fronts, firstly, a number of strikers were linked with a move to Roker and one in particular spoke out regarding the prospect of making the move.
Bernie Slaven had spent seven years at Middlesbrough by this time and had 146 goals to his name in that time on Teesside, but after being told he no longer featured in manager Lennie Lawrence’s plans following their promotion to the Premier League, Slaven talked of his desire to join Sunderland:
I would be interested in Sunderland. It’s a big club as any other. I have been to Sunderland a few times over the years, just to see them play. I don’t feel the usual Teesside hatred against Sunderland and Newcastle - because I’m from Glasgow.
I know the North-East well and if I was to go to Sunderland, there would be no settling in period. They play football and that would suit me down to the ground. I’m as fit as anybody in the Middlesbrough team and I’ve got a lot more to offer the game.
In any case I’m still playing in the Premier League and I’m a current member of a current international squad. I also believe in my ability to keep scoring goals.
The Republic of Ireland international, who celebrated his 32nd birthday the previous day, had already scored four goals in the Premier League since August but was hoping Malcolm Crosby would make a move to provide more opportunity for first team football.
Another striker who had his name linked with a move to the Lads, was this time a goalscoring legend at Newcastle United. Following Kevin Keegan’s appointment as manager at St. James’, Mick Quinn had fallen out of favour and was about to be released from his contract at the club along with defender Bjorn Kristensen and both were speculated to be on the radar of Malcolm Crosby.
On this subject, however, the Sunderland manager was quick to rule out any move for Quinn:
I’m not saying I don’t fancy him as a player but, at the moment, I wouldn’t be looking to bring him in.
It wasn’t only players who were linked with moves to Roker, but managers were being touted to be on a shortlist of Sunderland chairman Bob Murray to replace Crosby as well. This time it was the turn of Brian Little, who was currently manager of our next opponents, only 48 hours later, and Crosby was forced to comment on his future at the club:
I can understand people talking about my job, but once other managers are brought into it, it affects their club and I don’t think that is fair. People have been saying I’m under pressure from game three or four. At the end of the day, I’ve not got to worry about it.
In the build-up to the fixture which was moved to a Sunday for Tyne-Tees coverage from Roker Park, all the attention had been on the situation of the opposition managers links with the Roker hotseat, but the most significant news was that Anton Rogan had been ruled out of taking part in the fixture due to a virus, as Crosby explained:
Anton has been suffering from a virus all week. Terry Butcher will play. He gives us some experience, in as far as he gets other people to play.
It was the 33-year-old’s first start in nine fixtures due to his troublesome knee injury that almost forced him to retire and although there was no doubt that 77-times capped Butcher would bring experience to the side, there was no accounting for the pace of a young Leicester City forward.
Julian Joachim was in his second year of his YTS at Filbert Street and he may well have not been well known to Sunderland fans before kick-off, but after he gave Leicester a 2-1 win after scoring both goals, it would soon be a name we wouldn’t forget, and neither would Terry Butcher.