A heavy defeat at Notts County in December 1983 did little for morale at Sunderland, but by the end of the month things were looking a lot rosier. The Lads ended the year with an encouraging win too, meaning those about to see in 1984 a couple of hours later were hopeful over what the next 12 months would bring.
Following the 6-1 Meadow Lane loss a short training camp in Guernsey appeared to pick the mood up and results after that Magpies chastening slowly began turning around. Luton Town travelled to Wearside 39 years ago then having to face a team that were now building some momentum, albeit without fan favourite Gary Rowell who was nursing a shin problem. Fellow attacker Leighton James also had to come off at the break after picking up an injury during the game, but Sunderland were still able to create enough chances in the second half to see off a competitive visiting side.
On Boxing Day Gordon Chisholm had been somewhat harshly sent off during a battling 0-0 draw at Everton but with his subsequent suspension not yet due to kick in he was free to continue in defence. Alongside Shaun Elliott he was able therefore to subdue Luton’s dangerous forward line, but it was at the other end where he made the most telling contribution – steering Paul Bracewell’s inviting cross past Les Sealey to give Sunderland the lead.
Playing in an adventurous formation and pushing up high, Alan Durban’s men deserved to be in front at that point and they quickly wrapped the match up with a second goal soon after. Pop Robson had come on for James and was a positive influence over the team, capping his performance off with an assist for the winner when he won possession and fed Nick Pickering. The youngster was an ever present during 1983-84, and he hit a wonderful shot beyond Sealey for what proved to be his only goal of what was an impressive individual campaign.
The success made it two draws and two victories out of the last four, and with new signing Lee Chapman looking handy on his debut following a big money move from Arsenal earlier in the week, the prospects for the new year seemed good. Sunderland fans know not to get too far ahead of themselves however and 1984 soon saw another period of upheaval begin to unravel.
Durban’s reign was characterised by stark fluctuations in results, and whilst most supporters could see the long-term possibilities not everybody was so sure. Certain members of the board were becoming restless amidst wider power struggles behind the scenes and so the win over the Hatters proved to be the last league victory of the Welshman’s reign.
Chapman soon opened his account during an FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers but would then leave over the summer having seen the man that signed him being dismissed before the season was over. This was despite the fact the squad sat outside of the relegation zone at the time and had recently played well against three of the eventual top four, picking up points against Southampton and Nottingham Forest before testing Manchester United in a narrow defeat.
It left many fans suggesting that the manager had been the victim of circumstances outside of his control and bemoaning the short sightedness of some of those above him at Roker. Whereas Luton remained in the top-flight for another decade almost, enjoying top half finishes and winning the Littlewoods Cup in 1988, Sunderland instead endured a dismal period that included two relegations that would have seemed impossible just a few months before. If only their new year’s resolution had been to show more patience…
Saturday 31 December 1983
Canon League Division One
Sunderland 2 (Chisholm 54, Pickering 60)
Luton Town 0
Sunderland: Turner; Venison, Chisholm, Elliott, Atkins; Bracewell, Pickering; Proctor, James (Robson 46); Chapman, West.
Roker Park, attendance 19482