David Kelly was one of those players always destined to play for Sunderland. As a kid at Walsall, he was linked on numerous occasions, before making the leap from Division Three to Division One thanks to a £600,000 transfer to West Ham after bagging a play-off final hattrick for the Saddlers at the end of the 87-88 season.
It didn’t quite work out for ‘Ned’ in London (although he did score three against us over a two-legged League Cup tie in 1988) and after a couple of years he joined Leicester for £300,000.
He rediscovered some form, but didn’t pull up too many trees, and after Marco Gabbiadini was sold to Palace it was Kelly who Denis Smith earmarked as his number one target to replace him.
The deal was pretty much done – Smith thought it was – but the club decided it couldn’t meet Kelly’s wage demands, reportedly £1000 per week, and it was all, suddenly, called off.
Of course, we know what happened next. With Smith trying to revive the deal, Kevin Keegan swooped in and nabbed Kelly for the relegation-threatened side. Of course, he became the one-in-two striker who not only scored a derby winner against us and saved them from relegation but subsequently shot the twats to promotion.
Denis Smith had signed Don Goodman instead – for three times the money he was going to spend on Kelly – and Goodman was a very good player for us all told.
Keegan ruthlessly let Kelly go on promotion, deeming him not good enough to play top-flight football, and he joined Wolves for whom he top-scored the following season.
Over at Roker, however, things hadn’t gone so well. After Smith’s departure, Crosby, Butcher and Buxton had all tried their hand without much success, the latter selling Goodman to Wolves in a bid to shake up the team.
At Molineux, Goodman took Kelly’s place, so in the early days of Reid’s first full season when the boss had decided Brett Angell simply wouldn’t cut it, it was Molineux he dialed. Kelly – and Chris Waddle – were Reid’s two key targets, and eventually landed the former for a fee of £900,000 – rising to £1m if we achieved promotion.
It was a statement of intent – a 29-year-old international striker at the peak of his powers, and everyone was buoyed by his arrival.
It was 27 years ago today that he made his debut for us – alongside Phil Gray as we headed to The New Den to take on Mick McCarthy’s Millwall, for whom Alex Rae lined up.
Kelly – unusually wearing the number 5 shirt – almost opened the scoring for the lads – a left-foot strike just drifting wide – before he won a penalty just before halftime after being bundled over by Tony Witter.
Sunderland had missed five consecutive penalties, and spot-kick duties were passed to full back Martin Scott – who convincingly slotted the ball past Don Goodman’s mate, Kasey Keller.
Midway through the second half, the scores were level. A long ball pumped up into the box led to a bit of a scrap, and Millwall stalwart Keith Stevens hammered the ball past Alec Chamberlain.
Reidy’s men had only won two from seven before the game, but buoyed by Kelly’s arrival and a 2-0 win at Luton the last time out in the league, kept knocking in an attempt to get the winner.
And it came ten minutes from time.
Martin Smith, on as a sub for summer signing John Mullin, claimed he got a touch on Micky Gray’s inswinging free kick – although replays look like it went straight in.
It counted, which was all that really matters, and Sunderland claimed a third win of the season.
It lifted the club up to seventh place in the league, and while we all know how the season ended up, there was a remarkable amount of confidence post-game, particularly given we’d just scraped survival the season before. Testament to Reid’s impact, I guess.
New signing Kelly said:
I’ve seen quite a bit of Sunderland now and I know that this is a good team that is still improving.
We’re in a much healthier state than Newcastle were when I first joine them because that side was struggling.
But it’s premature to compare us with the United team that went up, Kevin Keegan had transformed them into an excellent outfit.
But on the evidence I’ve seen so far, Sunderland are in for a good season.
Meanwhile Richard Ord, who’d skippered the side in the absence of the suspended Kevin Ball, said:
I’m desperate to play in the Premiership for Sunderland. It would be a dream come true if we went up this season.
It’s something I honestly feel we’re capable of achieving. The atmosphere at the club is similar to when Denis Smith and Viv Busby were here. The boss has the place buzzing.
Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell deserve a lot of credit for what the have done so far. THe boss is such a great motivator and gives us confidence off the pitch, while Brace is such an outstanding player he helps us on it.
After a few poor seasons, the lads are really starting to believe in themselves and I think that showed against Millwall.
Now that Ned’s here and the boss is still talking about other signings, it’s all starting to take off for Sunderland.
While it did take off for Sunderland, it didn’t really do so for Kelly.
The following week he got off the mark for the club with a cracking goal in a 2-2 Roker Park draw against Reading and bagged the winner in the following game away at Palace (in which both Scott and Bracewell managed to miss penalties).
While on international duty, Kelly suffered a serious ankle injury, and while he tried to battle through, he was in and out of the team and never looked right. During a home game with Norwich at the turn of the year, he was subbed with only a couple of minutes left, and was left watching from the sidelines as Craig Russell and Phil Gray shot the lads to the championship title.
While he ended up playing 40 times for Sunderland, those two goals in his first three games were the only ones he registered – although playing right midfield in the Premiership probably didn’t help that.
After waiting so long for Kelly to play for Sunderland, I couldn’t help feeling a little short-changed. Not that it was his fault, mind.