The team Peter Reid inherited from Mick Buxton had lost six out of seven and were in absolute freefall. Bereft of confidence and inspiration, the club was dropping like a stone, only for Reid to come in and reinvigorate everyone.
Reid’s first game – at home to Sheffield United – is always fondly remembered; Craig Russell’s late winner sealing a pivotal three points. But the following week the lads scored another 1-0 win that is probably less well recalled, but arguably more significant.
On this day 27 years ago, we headed to the Baseball Ground to face Roy McFarland’s – and Marco Gabbiadini’s – in-form Derby County. The Rams had won their past five home games, with McFarland claiming the league’s manager of the month award.
Reid made a couple of changes to the team that had played against the Blades. Goalscoring substitute Craig Russell took the place of the injured Phil Gray, while skipper Kevin Ball returned to the team in place of Derek Ferguson.
Ball had missed out on the Sheffield United game through suspension, and within eight minutes of the game against Derby, he found himself in the referee’s notebook again – triggering another ban after reaching 42 disciplinary points, and an impending hearing at the FA.
I think I was a little unlucky to get booked at Derby for a pretty normal tackle. A lot of my bookings have been like that.
Overall this season, I feel I have picked up more bookings because of the new FIFA guidelines to referees. Something I shall point out to the commission is that no opposing players have been injured as a result of any of my bookings, so it is not as if I am setting out to hurt people.
Ball had been deployed as the anchorman in midfield, in front of a central defensive partnership of Gary Bennett and Richard Ord, two players often left sidelined by Buxton.
Ball led the way as Sunderland set about Derby with an enviable work rate on and off the ball. Reid had clearly fired the team up and had got them well organised.
The Journal reported:
Although Ord caught many an eye, skipper Kevin Ball is The Journal’s four star man. As the anchor midfielder, sometimes almost sweeping in front of the defence and snuffing our danger, Ball inspired what basically was a successful closing down operation mounted on a previously in-form Derby side.
And it was Ball who grabbed the only goal of the game four minutes before half time, his right foot shot from a short free-kick given for obstruction in the box finding its way past Derby keeper Russell Hoult.
Sunderland could – and should – have had a penalty, too – sub Martin Gray needing four stitches in his head after being booted by Derby captain Paul Williams, but Sunderland held out for a valuable three points.
The only downside to the day was Ball’s impending suspension, and injuries to Steve Agnew and Gary Bennett. However, at this stage of the season, it was only the three points that mattered.
Derby 0-1 Sunderland
Sunderland: Norman, Kubicki, Bennett, Ord, Scott, Agnew (Gray 40), Atkinson, Ball, Smith, Angell, Russell. Subs not used: Preece, Brodie.
Derby: Hoult, Wrack (Sturridge 75), Wassall, Trollope, Kavanagh, Williams, Harkes, Pembridge, Mills, Gabbiadini, Simpson (Boden 66). Sub not used: Sutton.