After the 1992 FA Cup final, things weren’t going all that well.
Malcolm Crosby may have been given a one-year contract to take on the job permanently, but he wasn’t backed by the board as if they viewed the appointment as long term.
Terry Butcher, Shaun Cunnington and John Colquhoun was the sum total of business that Crosby was able to facilitate during the summer months and our close shave with relegation the season before suggested we required further additions.
By mid-November we had recorded only four wins in the first sixteen games, and it was clear we were preparing for another battle against the drop, but as things began to look bleak - we started off on a mini revival.
It began with a win at the Baseball Ground over Arthur Cox’s Derby County, that included ex-Roker favourite Marco Gabbiadini, in a game that also saw the debut from the bench of Michael Gray.
After the 1-0 win in the East Midlands, we travelled to Roots Hall, where an Ian Sampson goal made it six points from six ahead of the visit of Mel Machin’s Barnsley that came next.
Three weeks prior to our clash against Barnsley, we lost our previous home game against Leicester City 2-1 and this resulted in problems for the Sunderland board when protests broke out.
Many fans stayed beyond the final whistle to group outside of the Main Stand and voice their displeasure at the chairmanship of Bob Murray. What followed was a public war of words between chairman and manager in which it was made clear that the victories on the road at Derby and Southend would need to be followed up with the collection of three points on home soil.
To complicate things for Crosby, his squad was depleted heading into the Barnsley fixture, with the likes of Gary Owers, Anton Rogan, David Rush and Richard Ord were all unavailable through injury, but the much changed starting XI got off to a flying start.
After making his debut from the bench at Derby County, Michael Gray had now been given the nod to make his first start for the club and within forty seconds he had recorded his first goal for the club.
A Gordon Armstrong free-kick was partially headed clear by Gerry Taggart, but the clearance fell to Gray on the edge of the box who volleyed home first time with his left foot to give Sunderland the lead.
Barnsley were a decent side however, and we had Tony Norman to thank for keeping us a goal ahead. Too add to our injury problems, Don Goodman left the field after just over ten minutes with a suspected hamstring injury and was replaced by John Colquhoun, but on the half hour, we doubled our lead.
Kevin Ball played a long ball over the top into Cunnington’s path who did well to shrug off a challenge before driving the ball home.
Crosby’s side hit their stride now and Colquhoun was unlucky not to make it three when he hit the bar. The second half saw our second striker in the starting XI leave the field through injury when Peter Davenport hobbled off to leave us with a temporary strike force of Brian Mooney and John Colquhoun.
Five minutes later, Barnsley pulled one back through an Ian Sampson own goal, but although it was a nervy last half hour, we collected a much needed three points.
It was the first time Sunderland had won three consecutive games since Crosby first stepped into the caretake role in January 1991 and Terry Butcher lead the salute to the Fulwell End after the game.
The last word goes ot Michael Gray who only took forty seconds to score on his full debut at Roker Park:
I could not have hoped for a better start. The manager said before the match, that if anything came out of the box, to have a crack. And that’s exactly what I did. I saw the keeper had come off the line and had a go. It’s the first goal I’ve scored for the juniors, reserves or at any level this season.
My family were all here to watch and my brother Paul had a bet on me scoring the first goal. He must have got tremendous odds for that.
Saturday 5th December, 1992
Barclays League Division One
Sunderland 2 - 1 Barnsley
[Gray 1’, Cunnington 29’ - Sampson (OG) 52’]
Sunderland: Norman, Kay, Butcher, Sampson, Gray, Cunnington, Ball, Atkinson, Armstrong, Goodman (Colquhoun), Davenport (Mooney)
Barnsley: Butler, Robinson, Fleming (Currie), Bishop, Taggart, O’Connell, Biggins, Redfearn, Pearson, Rammell, Archdeacon Substitute not used: Godfrey