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On This Day (28 February 1987): Get me to the match on time!

Sunderland issue an SOS to the church as a controversial last-minute call sees the lads emerge victoriously.

Lawrie McMenemy’s Sunderland claimed a controversial last-minute win over Bobby Ferguson’s Ipswich Town side at Roker Park, which lifted the lads up to 14th in the Second Division table.

The winning goal came from the spot – Mark Proctor dispatching the ball past Easington-born defender Ian Cranson, who had played the final half an hour in goal after Paul Cooper (himself a renowned penalty stopper) had gone off injured.

Until that point, the game had been devoid of incident, although pre-match Sunderland were scrambling around for a centre back. First choice Steve Hetzke went down with a stomach bug only a couple of hours before kick off, and an SOS had to be sent to 20-year-old David Corner who was attending a wedding having not been named in the matchday squad.

The call was put through to the church, and Corner was whisked back to replace his top hat and tails with the number 5 shirt.

And, although Sunderland kept a clean sheet, Corner felt the scrutiny of the crowd after missing a couple of first-half chances.

McMenemy said:

Maybe because he hadn’t been preparing himself to play on the day he didn’t react quickly enough.

The uneventful game was decided by a controversial penalty, awarded by the linesman for a Romeo Zondervan push on Terry Curran.

Cranson, who’d kept Sunderland at bay with a composed performance in goal, booted the ball away in disgust at referee Neil Midgeley’s decision, while defender O’Donnell received a yellow card for disputing the decision.

Proctor put the kick away – if only he’d been able to do that later in the season – and at the final whistle former Sunderland captain Ian Atkins and Cranson had to be dragged away from the under-fire ref.

Ipswich manager Bobby Ferguson – who would, of course, become Malcolm Crosby’s assistant five years later – said:

It was a disgusting decision, that’s the only word for it.

The crowd were screaming for a penalty and the linesman thought he had better give them something.

At the end we just tried to calm the lads down, because they thought they had been cheated.

McMenemy too was unsure about the spot kick’s award, but was happy to take it.

From where we were, no one knew what it was for.

We saw the flag go up and just hoped it was for a penalty.

There was some debate in the dressing room about it, and the lads said it was for handball, but we heard later it was for pushing.

The game wasn’t a classic, but in our position the points are invaluable.

It was Sunderland’s third win in five games – a decent set of results after a poor run saw the team drop from 5th place at the end of October to the lower reaches of mid-table. But, unfortunately, those wins didn’t set the lads up for a strong end to the season.

The game turned out to be McMenemy’s second off last win as Sunderland boss, as the team went into freefall after a victory in their next home game, against Plymouth.

Nine points from the 13 games that followed saw Sunderland drop into the relegation play off place (the last game of the season resulted in Sunderland occupying 20th place for only the second time at any point of the season), and we all know what happened after that…

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