Lawrie McMenemy failed to get a lot of things right at Sunderland, but when you scrutinise his failure at Roker you could justifiably point at his failure to adequately replace Chris Turner in goal as a huge, gaping failure to begin with.
55 goals conceded in 42 games in 85/86 and 61 in the following campaign certainly suggests problems at the back – although it was admittedly one of a myriad.
Turner had joined Manchester United after relegation, and Seamus McDonagh had been drafted. After conceding 17 goals in the season’s first eight games – during the last of which he complained the crossbar was too high – the on-loan McDonagh was hastily returned to Meadow Lane, after overseeing six defeats and two draws as Sunderland got used to life under McMenemy in Division Two.
Bob Bolder, the 28-year-old former Sheff Wed keeper, who’d been Bruce Grobbelaar's understudy at Liverpool for the past two seasons, was signed on loan and immediately put into the team. He got off to an impressive start, playing his part in four consecutive wins, including some penalty heroics as the lads overcame Grimsby in the Full Members Cup, and the club made his move from Liverpool permanent for a six-figure fee.
But he too lost his form, and in a bold move, was sent on loan to Luton only five months after arriving at the club, following a 2-2 home draw with Bob Stokoe’s Carlisle.
In his place, 20-year-old Welshman Andy Dibble headed in the opposite direction and was jettisoned straight into the team.
After making his debut in a 2-0 away defeat to Mick Buxton’s Huddersfield, for whom Steve Doyle and Terry Curran played – the latter netting both goals – Dibble played in a home loss to Charlton and an away draw at Hull, before suffering a hip injury in training which, just before kick off, ruled him out of an away game at Grimsby.
So, it was on this day, that another keeper – Sunderland’s fourth of the season – was making headlines after saving a crucial penalty at Blundell Park in a 1-1 draw.
Cameron Duncan, a 20-year-old reserve, had been drafted in as Dibble’s replacement, and performed admirably, including his save from future Middlesbrough man Andy Peake.
I hadn’t decided to dive one way or the other. I just waited for Peake to hit it and luckily I reacted quickly enough to stop it.
It was important because that would have put us 2-0 down, and it would have been difficult to come back from that.
I was nervous before the match, but it was a great experience and I was pleased with my performance.
For Dibble, frustration was the name of the game, with the injury forcing his withdrawal from the Welsh squad too. Fortunately for the Welshman, he was back in action the following week, with Duncan relegated to the reserves again.
In fact, that proved to be Duncan’s one and only league appearance for the lads. He had a successful career in Scotland with Motherwell, Partick and Ayr United, and sadly he passed away from cancer at the very young age of 51, only five years ago.
For Dibble, he is rightly remembered as a shining light in a dire season, and a major reason why we stayed up that year. Three clean sheets in the season’s final four games gave the team an invaluable nine points, and proved crucial.
Much like Shay Given a decade later, it was unfortunate – and to the club’s long-term detriment – that a permanent deal couldn’t be agreed. Dibble went back to Luton, where he was understudy to Les Sealey, before joining Manchester City.
Bob Bolder was moved on permanently to Charlton, where he regained his form in the top flight, while McMenemy brought in Iain Hesford, again initially on loan, to fill the keeper’s spot the following season.
But, for a moment at least, 36 years ago today, it was Cameron Duncan who was grabbing all of the headlines – for all the right reasons, too.