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Sunderland Manager Len Ashurst 1985 League Cup Final

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On This Day (15 December 1984): Len Ashurst’s Sunderland side win at Portman Road!

On this day 38 years ago, a Len Ashurst-led Sunderland side took all three points off Ipswich at Portman Road with two goals in the second half from Gary Bennett and Clive Walker. Were you there?

Photo by Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive

I feel like this isn’t the first time I have written this statement when attempting to summarise a season in a few words for this article - but in many ways, the 1984-85 season was not a memorable one for Sunderland fans.

Reaching the club’s first-ever League Cup final was no consolation for being relegated - oddly enough Norwich, who beat Sunderland, also went down.

The season started well. After back-to-back 3-0 home wins in October and November, Len Ashurst had Sunderland seventh place in the table - and only three points off Manchester United in third place.

Sunderland were only in this position due to their home form, with five wins and two draws from the seven games at Roker Park masking the fact the team’s away form was absolutely horrendous, with three points from six games plainly outlining the inept nature of the team's performances away from home.

On this day in 1984, Sunderland went to Portman Road looking to make amends for a 4-0 defeat at home to Leicester the week before. We were in 14th place in the table - and whilst they lost to Leicester the previous week, they were only after defeating Manchester United 3-2 at home where new signing Clive Walker scored a hat trick.

Soccer - Milk Cup - Semi Final - Second Leg - Chelsea v Sunderland - Stamford Bridge Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Ipswich were the perfect opponents for Ashurst’s men due to their complete incapability to score goals in many of their previous games. That being said, the home side started well - displaying far more energy in their play.

However, Eric Gates was the star man for the Tractor Boys - and Sunderland knew this. According to local journalists at the game, Sunderland targeted him and attempted to shut him down.

Ipswich made all the early running against a Sunderland side that recalled Nick Pickering and Gordon Chisholm who was detailed to mark the home side’s leading scorer Eric Gates. Ipswich should have gone ahead in the third minute when Gates played the ball over the top of the defence for Brennan to run on to and with only the goalkeeper to beat, Brennan lifted his shot high and wide off the target.

Whilst Ipswich certainly did make all the early attacks, their toothlessness became apparent and was going to be their undoing. Titled ‘Fergie’s Flops’ after their manager Bobby Ferguson, the Sunday People suggested that they were making “life difficult if not impossible for themselves through their inability to score”.

Gordon Chisholm had a fine game protecting his team at the back, with the Sunday People’s Gerry Harrison praising his defensive display.

Ipswich had looked sharp in their build up as well as being untroubled in defence. Yet if you stop Gates, you stop Ipswich which Chisholm did effectively.

Sunderland’s attack was not much better but as the game went on, their confidence grew. They took the lead through new signing Gary Bennett’s goal with twenty minutes to go.

Gordon Chisholm of Sunderland

It gave Sunderland something to hold onto - and with Ipswich probing trying to find an equaliser, Clive Walker bagged his fourth goal in as many games to ensure Sunderland went home with the three points with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.

This win left Sunderland in thirteenth - and it was as good as it was going to get for the team as the season spiralled after this point. As the season fell away, the Lads ended up ten points from safety, albeit holding more than twice as many points as back markers Stoke.

After a diabolical second half of the season, Ashurst paid with his job.


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