A league season that had promised so much offered very little in the end.
Hopes for instant promotion failed to materialise - Sunderland were inconsistent from the commencement of the season, found to be completely incapable of stringing more than two wins together up until Christmas. That and some really poor defeats led to Denis Smith losing his job. He was replaced by Malcolm Crosby at the turn of the year.
Crosby steadied the ship somewhat, more so in cup competitions than in the league. Results didn’t change in the league, but Crosby (and John Byrne) gave the fans a substantial dose of cup fever which saw them face Liverpool in the final at Wembley.
The cup run was a welcome distraction from league form. In late March, Sunderland were languishing in 17th position after one win in the previous seven. Newcastle, at St James’ Park, were Crosby’s men's final game of March. They went into the game after losing to Bristol City and Watford in the previous two games.
Newcastle, buoyed by the return of Kevin Keegan as manager, entered this game in a positive mood despite their poor league position too. Confidence was continuing to grow. The attendance 30,306 was the biggest gate of the entire Division Two season.
As for the game itself, it was typical of two teams who were struggling. Sunderland started tentatively and devoid of confidence. Despite the threat of Gordon Armstrong and John Byrne up front, the away side created very little throughout the game.
The midfield was overrun and Newcastle were creating chance after chance. They almost sensationally took the lead early in the first half after Steve Watson picked the ball up just inside the Sunderland half. As the Sunderland defence and midfield continued to back off, Watson took on the shot from around 30 yards out. The shot had Tim Carter completely beaten, but the crossbar came to Sunderland’s rescue.
Unfortunately, they had no such luck a few minutes later when Newcastle took the lead. From a quickly taken corner, David Kelly was found in the box and his header somehow got past the combination of Tim Carter and Paul Hardyman who was guarding the near post.
It was nothing short of what Newcastle deserved as Sunderland struggled to create anything substantial in the first half. The second half was not much different.
In truth, Newcastle should have scored more. If VAR existed in 1992, it is more than likely that Mickey Quinns’ header would have counted. Sunderland, sloppy in possession, were caught on the counter and as the ball was crossed to Quinn alone in the box, his header was somehow cleared off the line. Based on the highlights online, it seems very likely that it was over the line.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Sunderland were second best throughout this game. Not even the inspiration of the derby encounter could stem the losing tide that they were succumbing to.
Sunderland would stay up. Just.
At least we had the FA Cup eh?
Newcastle 1-0 Sunderland
Newcastle: Wright, Watson, Stimson, O’Brien, Kilcline, Scott, Quinn, Peacock, Kelly, Sheedy, Brock. Unused subs: Clark, McDonough.
Sunderland: Carter, Kay, Hardyman, Bracewell, Ball, Rogan, Rush, Atkinson, Davenport (Mooney ‘57), Byrne, Armstrong. Unused subs: Simpson