Denis Smith had assessed the merits of a few forwards as he tried to strengthen the attack of his team, who were doing a decent job of establishing itself in the second division’s mid-table.
He’d had Ajax’s former Spurs forward Ally Dick on trial, brought in former England winger Peter Barnes on a short term contract and also make moves in the direction of German forward Uwe Fuchs, who decided against a move to Roker in favour of staying in his home country.
The need for striking reinforcements was made all the more urgent by the fact Smith had needed to sacrifice Billy Whitehurst to get goalkeeper Tony Norman into the club. Keeper had been a position that was evidently not as strong as it could have been – Iain Hesford had been erratic during his spell here, and the former Blackpool keeper headed to Boothferry Park with Whitehurst – whose inclusion was a deal-breaker for Hull, as Welsh international Norman signed on at Roker.
After a seven-week search, Smith finally landed a striker in the form of West German Thomas Hauser from Basel Old Boys – and he was on the bench as Norman, Hesford and Whitehurst renewed acquaintances with their former colleagues.
Sunderland weren’t in the best of form – the team had lost the previous three games 2-0 at Leeds, 3-0 at home to Walsall and 4-1 away at Swindon, and Smith was not happy.
I don’t like losing, and the last two games, in particular, have hurt me more than any since I’ve been at the club.
We’ve been together all week, and instead of brooding over the Swindon result we’ve talked it over and looked at where we went wrong.
Hopefully, we’ve got it out of our system.
Star striker Marco Gabbiadini had missed the past three games after being suspended for a red card for violent conduct at Oxford, and Smith said:
He’s been heavily fined, but the fact is we’ve lost the three games he’s missed. If we don’t go up because of those three games it will have taken away his opportunity to play in the first division as well. He’s a bright enough lad to realise the consequences.
Gabbiadini was back in the starting line up as the lads took on Hull, with John MacPhail charged with marking Whitehurst, who’d impressed at Roker and had become something of a cult hero in his short spell at Sunderland.
Hesford and Whitehurst made fairly predictable first half impressions – Whitehurst’s on Armstrong’s chest, via his studs, Hesford mistiming his punch. But the former Roker custodian had little to do for the majority of the game.
As an aide, Jeff Brown reported in The Journal that the departure of Hesford and Whitehurst – in part exchange for a 30-year-old keeper who’d never played top flight football – had been used by some sections of the crowd as a reason to criticise Smith, having prompted ‘a curious backlash in some quarters’.
After returning from a ban, Gabbiadini again showed his temperamental side, earning a booking for dissent, but he sprang into life to set up the first with fewer than 20 minutes remaining – latching onto Gates’ through-ball before setting up Pascoe for the game’s opening goal.
And it was Gabbiadini himself who put the game to bed, in a way only Marco could – sprinting from the halfway line to curl a stunning goal past Hesford.
There was still time for Whitehurst – who’d been booked earlier for going through Gary Bennett – to receive a red card for a lunge at MacPhail, and for new striker Hauser to get his first taste of English football, from the bench.
The game finished 2-0 and, as always, proved that with Marco we always had a chance.
After the game, Iain Hesford spoke about the potential of his former teammate Gabbiadini, issuing some advice that in hindsight proved prophetic.
After playing with him for 18 months I should have known he was capable of something like that.
He’s a great player, but with that 10 per cent extra he could be England class.
I’m not saying he’s lazy, but if he was prepared to put in 10 minutes work on his own after training each day he would really be something special.
He has got natural talent. He reminds me of a young Gary Lineker, but Lineker has shown what can be done by knuckling down and really making the most of what you’ve got.
Sunderland 2-0 Hull City
Roker Park, 14,719
Goals: Pascoe 71, Gabbiadini 81
Sent off: Whitehurst, 82
Sunderland: Norman, Bennett, Gray, Agboola MacPhail, Doyle, Cullen, Armstrong, Gates (Hauser 82), Gabbiadini (Cornforth 88), Pascoe.
Hull City: Hesford, Brown, Jacobs, De Mange (Smith 78), Jobson, Buckley, Payton, Roberts, Whitehurst, Edwards, Askew. Sub not used: Warren.