It’s bizarre to look back at this game, as it was a point in time where it actually looked like Terry Butcher’s reign as Sunderland manager might be heading in the right direction.
It was almost inevitable from the day the former Glasgow Rangers defender joined the ranks on the playing side in the summer of 1992, that he would go on to manage the club.
The situation was ideal for this to play out, especially with Malcolm Crosby in charge, who was appointed on the back of a run to the FA Cup final rather than being the chairman’s first choice.
It’s been well documented that Neil Warnock was at the top of Bob Murray’s list to replace Denis Smith, but with the cup run blinding everyone to the fact that our form in the league was woeful, Crosby was handed the job on a wave of optimism.
Crosby’s assistant manager was Bobby Ferguson, who had been Bobby Robson’s assistant at Ipswich Town for many years, and this proved instrumental in persuading Butcher to come out of semi-retirement after being sacked as player-manager of Coventry City the previous year.
With the club languishing once again at the wrong end of the Division One table, Crosby was sacked in February 1993 and was quickly replaced by Butcher, who reprised his role as player-manager as he had fulfilled at Coventry. Things however, did not improve and we were forced to rely on other results on the final day to avoid our second drop into the third tier.
After the close shave with relegation, the manager was determined to clear out the squad, and unlike Smith and Crosby previously, Butcher was backed in the transfer market. Alec Chamberlain, Andy Melville, Ian Rodgerson, Derek Ferguson and Phil Gray were all added to the squad for relatively big money back in the summer of 1993.
A whole host of players were transfer listed, including midfielders Gary Owers and Gordon Armstrong, but unfortunately as far as the manager was concerned, no bids were received for any of the players that he designated as being surplus to requirements.
Following a solid pre-season victory at Middlesbrough, a car containing Gray, Ferguson, Melville and Rodgerson was involved in a serious accident on route back to Sunderland and days later the Lads went down 5-0 at Derby County on the opening day of the season. The signs were ominous.
After five league games, we were rock bottom of the table, but three wins in the next six games lifted Butcher’s side up to the dizzy heights of 15th in the table, and the previous game prior to the visit of Keith Burkinshaw’s West Bromwich Albion to Roker Park did much to raise the optimism levels.
Not only did Sunderland claim all three points, but a new shining light was introduced to the Roker faithful and he made an immediate impact. Martin Smith had impressed in the youth side to the extent that he was thrown into the starting XI to face David Pleat’s Luton Town at Roker.
After Don Goodman opened the scoring, Smith stroked in a free-kick on his debut to double the lead and announce that Sunderland had a player on their hands. Three days later, it was no surprise that Smith was once again in the starting line-up to face West Brom and with only seven minutes on the clock he almost claimed his second goal for the Lads.
After robbing Ian Hamilton of the ball he headed directly for goal and struck a well-hit shot that was brilliantly saved by keeper Tony Lange. The visitors didn’t threaten Chamberlain’s goal all afternoon, but on the other hand, Sunderland huffed and puffed and were struggling to create an opening.
But just before the hour, it was Smith once again who provided the spark when his free-kick was placed directly onto the head of Richard Ord - who was playing against doctors orders after suffering a concussion in the recent defeat at Middlesbrough - who placed it in the bottom corner.
The game finished 1-0 and saw Sunderland rise to 11th in the table. It’s fair to say Ord was pleased with the goal, evidenced in his attempt at an extravagant celebration and his words after the game:
I was delighted when Terry called me into the side after missing Wednesday. It’s great to have them [fans] on your side. I’ve never wanted to play for anyone else and to have the fans on your side is a tremendous feeling.
They have a chant for me that is something to do with Eric Cantona! I tried a Peter Beagrie somersault and it didn’t come off. My shoulder’s a bit sore now!
Saturday 23rd October, 1993
Sunderland 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Sunderland: Chamberlain, Owers, Bennett, Ball, Ord (Mi. Gray), Lawrence (Armstrong), Ferguson, Atkinson, Smith, Goodman, P. Gray Substitute not used: Norman
West Bromwich Albion: Lange, Parsley, Ampadu, Bradley, Strodder, Burgess, Hunt, Hamilton, Taylor, Mellon (Ashcroft), O’Regan Substitute not used: Naylor, McNally