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On This Day (6 February 1993): New manager, same old story for struggling Sunderland

The Terry Butcher era at Roker Park got underway 29 years ago today, but despite getting the rub of the green Sunderland were not able to give their new player-manager a win. 

Yesterday’s On This Day feature focused on one of Malcolm Crosby’s early games in charge of Sunderland. Although he took the club to the 1992 FA Cup final, his reign lasted just over a year, and after being dismissed on 1 February 1993 he was quickly replaced by one of his own signings.

When he arrived on Wearside, Terry Butcher was one of the best-known names in British football. After initially being appointed player-manager of Coventry City in 1990 he retired from playing so that he could concentrate on his other duties, but following Sunderland’s Wembley appearance, Crosby was able to convince him to dust off his boots in time for the following campaign.

Butcher quickly became a regular starter, and seemed to be the obvious choice when Crosby departed with the side dangerously close to the Division One relegation zone.

Butcher’s outfit - image taken from 1992-93 series of the SAFC match day programme

Named player-manager once again, Butcher’s first game in charge was against Swindon Town, who in Glen Hoodle also had a former international operating in a dual role.

The former England teammates both included themselves in their starting XIs, and it looked as if Butcher’s men were going to draw first blood when Sunderland were awarded a penalty after 11 minutes following a handball by Shaun Taylor.

Gordon Armstrong’s spot kick was tipped onto the post by Fraser Digby however, and from that point the visitors started to grow in confidence before taking the lead shortly after half time.

Paul Bodin hit a tidy finish across his fellow Welshman Tony Norman to put Swindon 1-0 up, and they had to work hard to preserve their lead with Sunderland pushing for an equaliser right up until the final whistle. Brian Atkinson and Kevin Ball both went close, and in added time it looked like the Lads had been given a lifeline when they were given their second penalty of the match. It was Ball that stepped up to take it this time, but he fired wide of the target to condemn the Rokerites to a third consecutive defeat in all competitions.

Sunderland’s efforts probably warranted a point, but Swindon would have no doubt felt aggrieved had Ball scored. Butcher himself later admitted that he could have easily been sent off earlier in the half when he pulled back Dave Mitchell, and the second penalty award was hotly disputed; referee Kevin Lynch only giving another handball decision against Taylor after consulting his linesman.

Failing to capitalise on these calls was becoming an issue. Of the six spot-kicks awarded to Sunderland up to that point in the season, only one had been converted and the poor penalty record reflected the side’s overall struggles.

Other than a burst of three consecutive wins in late November/early December the Lads had been unable to put any sort of run together and were still looking for their first league win of the calendar year. They were well and truly in the relegation dog fight whereas Swindon, for whom Nicky Summerbee played the full game, were looking upwards.

Action from 29 years ago - image taken from 1992-93 series of the SAFC match day programme

Hoddle’s side ended the season being promoted via the play-offs, and although Butcher did eventually manage to steer his side away from the drop it was thanks in part to results elsewhere.

There had been an extra 3,000 on the gate for his first game as gaffer compared to the previous home fixture, but crowds continued to hover around the mid to high teens for the most part during his tenure, which after plenty of bravado and initial excitement failed to live up to expectations.

He failed to ignite the squad and would himself be replaced by another internal appointment in the form of Mick Buxton midway through 1993-94.

In a quirk of fate, Sunderland would not play again on this date until 1999 when Swindon once again provided the opposition.

By then Sunderland had moved to the Stadium of Light and had been transformed completely as a club, but things very rarely run smoothly and we are seeing history repeat itself – February 2022 is seeing a managerial change just as February 1993 did.

Saturday 6 February 1993

Barclays League Division One

Sunderland 0

Swindon Town 1 (Bodin 52)

Sunderland: Norman; Kay, Ball, Butcher, Smith; Mi. Gray, Atkinson, Mooney, Armstrong; Rush, Davenport (Colquhoun 63). Unused: Ma. Gray

Roker Park, attendance 17, 234


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