Not for the first time- or the last, for that matter- there was yet more late-season drama on Wearside as the 1981/1982 league campaign drew to a close.
Sunderland had shown signs of progress during manager Alan Durban’s first season in charge, but he was working with limited resources, and the club went into the final match still unsure if they would avoid the dreaded drop.
Relegation had felt like a foregone conclusion a couple of months earlier, but Durban was trying to utilise the young talent available within his squad, and the introduction of one prospect in particular helped to kickstart an impressive run of results.
Forward Colin West had made his debut earlier in the season, but from the spring of 1982 onwards, he was given an extended run in the side, during which they only lost twice as the team pulled away from the bottom of the league.
With some of their rivals having games in hand, Sunderland knew that even a win might not be enough to make things certain, but with 1981/82 being the first season in which three points were awarded for a victory, they had to go for broke against Manchester City.
With the crowd fully behind them one more time before work on partially demolishing the Roker End would commence in the summer, the Lads flew out of the traps and took it to John Bond’s men before settling the nerves with an early opener.
Unsurprisingly, the in-form West was involved in the goal, when he turned on a Nick Pickering cross and laid it back towards Mick Buckley. The influential midfielder hit a low snapshot that swerved under Joe Corrigan to give Sunderland a lead that they rarely looked like relinquishing, and they then came close to extending their through Stan Cummins.
The club’s record buy saw his effort saved by Corrigan, however, but he still contributed at the other end when he cleared the ball off the line from City’s Kevin Bond.
It was a decisive moment, and it went a long way to seeing Sunderland over the line. Due to results elsewhere going their way, top flight status was confirmed on the day, instead of anxiously waiting for the remaining midweek fixtures to be played out.
It was mission accomplished, therefore, although Durban quickly moved onto the next stage of his plan to take Sunderland forward.
It was confirmed on the following Monday that Jeff Clarke, Barry Siddall and Kevin Arnott were all being handed free transfers, whilst John McGinley was also released, and youth coach Jimmy Montgomery was taken off his playing contract.
It seemed as if Cummins was making alternative plans too, although after apparently expressing his desire to leave Sunderland just a couple of hours after the final whistle of a match he had affected so much, he would eventually stay put for another year.
The fact he remained a Division One player in the following twelve months was due in no small part to a win achieved forty years ago today.
Saturday 15 May 1982
Football League Division One
Sunderland 1 (Buckley 14)
Manchester City 0
Sunderland: Turner; Hinnigan, Chisholm, Hindmarch, Munro; Buckley, Elliott, Pickering, Cummins; Rowell, West. Unused: McCoist
Roker Park, attendance 26,167