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Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy

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On This Day (20 December 2003): Michael Proctor’s late winner saves Mick Mac’s blushes!

With pressure starting to ramp up on Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, he knew his side couldn’t afford to lose when they came up against bottom side Wimbledon on this day nineteen years ago.

Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

Pressure was building on Mick McCarthy around this time almost twenty years ago. His team had failed to win in seven games - and after throwing away a two goal lead at Upton Park the week before, it looked like they were going to drop points to the team slumped right at the bottom of the table, Wimbledon.

The manager had undertaken some turnaround on and off the pitch since relegation the previous season. Costs were dramatically cut, with big name players replaced by experienced heads who knew the manager and the leagues well.

The season was not going entirely to plan with Sunderland languishing in eighth place, seemingly playing in fits and starts struggling to gather any sort of momentum.

On this day, the game against Wimbeldon was seen as the perfect opportunity for McCarthy to obtain that important win and build some momentum in the camp.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - West Ham United v Sunderland Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

The first half had started at a frantic pace.

The away side’s Adam Nowland saw a shot from Joel McAnuff’s free-kick rebound off the wall after just 12 seconds, while moments later at the other end John Oster’s header from Stewart’s cross flew inches wide.

Oster had begun superbly and his barnstorming start continued when his shot from the centre of the area was brilliantly parried by Banks, who then watched as Tommy Smith’s follow-up hit the woodwork.

Jason McAteer also went close as Sunderland took control, forcing Banks to save with a firm header from George McCartney’s cross.

Eventually, Sunderland got the goal that their pressure and play probably deserved. On 27 minutes, Oster won the penalty after Holloway clattered into him and Stewart blasted home the spot kick. They continued to press and probe trying to find a second - but to no avail.

As is typically the case, when you don’t put a team to the sword, you get punished - and this is exactly what happened on the stroke of half time. With the last kick of the first half, Paul Thirlwell deflected a cross from Dons substitute Wade Small beyond keeper Mart Poom.

With the atmosphere typically tense in the Stadium of Light at the time, this was the last thing that the squad needed. Credit to the team, they fought and created chances.

The closest being chances for Tommy Smith - whose header was held by Banks - and Stewart both went close to giving Sunderland the lead, the latter’s shot blocked by Dons defender Ben Chorley.

John Oster of Sunderland... Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

As these chances came and left, the pressure was building and the fans were becoming restless. According to the BBC:

A section of home fans had already turned on Mick McCarthy’s side.

They say moments can change a season and this was probably one of them as Michael Proctor - again - became the man to come up with a late winner for Sunderland.

Proctor latched onto fellow substitute Kevin Kyle’s flick-on from Mart Poom’s big punt to fire past Steve Banks. The sense of relief was palpable. Sometimes all a team needs is a break - and this appeared to be the one for McCarthy’s men - who only lost two matches in their next sixteen.

Sunderland: Poom, Wright, Babb, Bjorklund, McCartney, McAteer, Whitley, Thirlwell, Oster, Stewart, Tommy Smith. Subs: Kyle, Ingham, Proctor, Williams, Butler.

Wimbledon: Banks, Darlington, Gier, Holloway, Lewington, McAnuff, Reo-Coker, Nowland, Chorley, Holdsworth, Agyemang. Subs: McKoy, Small, Tapp, Harding, Worgan.

Referee: M Warren (W Midlands).

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