Sunderland went into the current break having just picked up a well-deserved three points at Birmingham City, the victory boosting an already strong away record and making it five wins on the road up to now for the season.
In 1983-84 though it took the whole campaign to reach that figure, one of the wins coming on this day at the same St. Andrew’s venue as the Lads’ most recent success.
On that occasion the club were travelling for a top-flight fixture, and whilst the first three journeys away from Roker that term had brought disappointing defeats things had since picked up.
There were notable scalps as both Liverpool and Arsenal were beaten in their own backyard, and if you include the League Cup Sunderland arrived in the second city unbeaten in their last five road trips.
Since then, however, two defeats on Wearside had followed a promising victory over Watford in the middle of the month and whilst hosts Birmingham would eventually be relegated boss Alan Durban had warned his men before kick-off of their physicality and toughness to beat. That was then brought into sharp focus when goalkeeper Chris Turner had to receive stitches to a head wound after a robust challenge from Mick Harford early in the game – the notorious hard man doing his hometown club no favours.
Harford later joined the Lads, as did two of his other teammates that day, Tony Coton and Howard Gayle. One man that already moved north and would return several times over was Paul Bracewell, who was in his first spell at the club at this point and had been in fine form since his arrival. Both he and Mark Proctor had been trying to make things happen in an otherwise scrappy game, and with about 20 minutes left Proctor started the move that led to Bracewell’s first goal in Sunderland colours, albeit his shot from outside the box after Gary Rowell had fed him did take a deflection on the way past Coton.
It was the only goal of the game, but Sunderland did shade things and were decent value for their first win at the Blues since September 1957. They had won there five months earlier as well, but the 26 year wait until 1983 for another league success that followed would have been equalled had Ellis Simms and Amad not done the business once more a fortnight ago – although the Lads have won there in both the FA Cup and League Cup since the last time they brought three points back in 1997.
Perhaps those cup wins were meant as revenge, as in early 1984 Birmingham came to Roker Park and won in the FA Cup, although Sunderland did then respond in the league return as they completed a double in April. Not only had there been a cup exit in between though, the improving away form had well and truly dropped off – beating City in such a way had been encouraging, but what came after was less cheery.
Sunderland followed up the victory at St. Andrew’s with a respectable draw at home to Ipswich Town, but whilst Bracewell got on the scoresheet again the next time they were on their travels the players got back on the bus having just been thumped 6-1. Durban did deliver one more away win – at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup – but for all the progress being made under his watch he was unable to withstand the barren runs that cropped up during his reign and perhaps more importantly, the boardroom machinations playing out above him.
The next league victory on foreign soil didn’t come until his replacement Len Ashurst was in charge, yet even after beating West Ham United in London Sunderland still went into the final game of the season under the threat of relegation. Results elsewhere meant that beating Leicester City back in the Midlands proved unnecessary in the end, but the result earnt 39 years ago today suggested more was within reach.
Saturday 16 November 1983
Football League Division One
Birmingham City 0
Sunderland 1 (Bracewell, 68)
Sunderland: Turner; Venison, Chisholm, Elliott, Pickering; Bracewell, Atkins, Proctor, James; Rowell, West. Unused: Atkinson.
St. Andrew’s, attendance 11948