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Watford Footballer Iwan Roberts 1988

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On This Day (15 February 1990): Denis Smith eyes Watford trio to bolster promotion push!

At least two of these players would have been excellent signings!

Photo by Allsport/Getty Images

Sunderland’s 1989-90 season is one remembered fondly, however on this day 32 years ago we weren’t in the best of form.

In fact, that’s something of an understatement.

After sitting third for weeks at the end of the year, we’d endured a run of one win and five losses in 12 games, had been dumped out of the FA Cup by lower-league Reading, turned over 3-0 at Ayresome Park and hammered 5-0 away at Coventry.

There was no speculation over the security of Denis Smith’s job – in this era you generally stuck with managers for a prolonged period of time, and didn’t react to a few bad results unless it was categorically evident the manager’s time had run its course.

Ah, the good old days.

As we approached a trip to Vicarage Road to play Watford, Denis Smith was looking around for attacking reinforcements. In the past seven games, we’d scored just three goals, and while star turn Marco Gabbiadini was still a potent weapon, additional firepower was clearly needed.

Soccer - Barclays League Division One - Manchester City v Sunderland - Maine Road
Needing help - Denis Smith
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

So, it was no surprise that Smith was looking around the market, and he was credited with an interest in three Watford attackers, who’d all been placed on the transfer list by manager Steve Harrison.

Glyn Hodges, a former Newcastle winger, was linked with a move to Roker after turning down a new contract with the Hornets.

Hodges was a superb player – creative and aggressive – and had been Watford’s player of the season the year before.

Harrison said:

If I can’t keep him then I must plan for the future without him.

Strikers Garry Thompson – a former Villa player who Sunderland were continually linked with over the years – and Welsh international Iwan Roberts were the other two players in Smith’s sights, although neither had a scoring record to suggest they’d be the answer to our trouble. Thompson had netted only eight in 41 games for Watford and Roberts nine in 54.

The need for additional attackers was underlined by Thomas Hauser picking up a bug, which saw him report to training with a 102-degree temperature, only to be promptly sent home.

He reported back again the following day, with Smith saying:

He looks a bit better, but we will have to wait to see what happens over the next couple of days, At least it gives us a chance to treat his ankle injury.

Of course, none of the trio ended up signing for Sunderland. 31-year-old Thompson signed for Palace before playing for QPR, Cardiff and Northampton. I don’t think we missed out on much there.

Glyn Hodges, 26, and 21-year-old Iwan Roberts however could have been excellent signings for the club. Roberts went on to star for Huddersfield, Leicester, Wolves and Norwich, proving to be a talented and goalscoring target man.

Sheffield United v Manchester United - FA Cup
Hodges was a combative player with great ability, too
Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

Hodges had spent many years at Wimbledon before his brief spell at St James, and would have been a great addition to the side. He joined Palace from Watford for a brief spell, before heading to Bramall Lane to join Sheffield United, for whom he was a constant thorn in our side whenever we played.

Funnily enough, our next game was against Watford, although only Hodges featured for the Hornets.

Thomas Hauser, recovered from his thermometer-smashing temperatures of earlier in the week, opened the scoring, only for Rod Thomas – a dynamic little winger who went on to star for Carlisle – to equalised.

The season turned back around of course and ultimately ended in success.

Amazing what a bit of patience can do, isn’t it?


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