John MacPhail battled back from flu to feature against Barnsley on this day in 1989, but despite an impressive result for the Lads Sunderland’s rock solid centre back perhaps wished he’d sat it out after all.
As brave as they come, MacPhail still had to come off in the opening stages following a nasty mid-air clash with Ian Banks from which he received a depressed fracture of the cheekbone off what appeared like a deliberate elbow. The game turned out to be the type of hard fought affair he would have thrived in, but the blow meant a spell on the sidelines was now due for Monty, and in the immediate aftermath Denis Smith was forced to rejig a defence that was already without regulars Tony Norman and Reuben Agboola.
The early switch was to limit the manager’s options when the knocks continued. Substitute Richard Ord slotted in extremely well once brought on, but with two more of his teammates picking up issues Smith faced a fresh dilemma at half time. Paul Bracewell had a groin problem whilst John Kay was struggling with a hamstring complaint, and with only one more change allowed it was decided that the former was the best placed to continue.
Visibly limping, Kay soldiered on until he had no choice but to come off midway through the second half, leaving Sunderland with only ten men for the final knockings. It was the worst time possible for there to be a numerical disadvantage, as by this stage in the match Barnsley were in the ascendancy having previously looked dead and buried, but an already niggly game had ratcheted up after the break and it was only when Gary Bennett created some more breathing space that things settled down.
With Sunderland defending the Roker End at kick-off, there was a sign of what was to come when Gordon Armstrong soon needed treatment from physio Steve Smelt. Unlike MacPhail however, Armstrong was able to continue and had a hand in creating a well taken brace from Eric Gates. First up he hit a probing ball that was only half cleared, Gates running onto it and connecting with a beautiful volley, and from a deep Armstrong throw Ord knocked down cleverly for Gates to blast home off the post.
The fixture was already being ‘well contested’ but once the interval was over a manic passage of events unfolded. Now about to miss a set of upcoming matches through injury anyway, Kay had already confirmed a suspension when yellow carded in the first half, and in Smith’s second enforced reshuffle he’d been moved more centrally. Gary Owers dropped into the right back berth therefore – only to be cautioned himself for a tackle on Julian Broddle.
It seemed to up the ante and as tempers frayed Clive Baker rushed out and clattered into Colin Pascoe to give away a penalty. The winger was running onto a well hit diagonal from Kay, who whilst unable to move freely still put himself about until it became nigh on impossible, and Paul Hardyman finished the job off from the spot. Hitting the shot high to his left and into the net, he seemed set for another one when Gates was clearly held in the box but an overworked David Scott of Burnley, who in total awarded over 40 free kicks over the course of the evening, decided to wave the appeals away.
At 4-0 it would have well and truly been game over but instead it was Barnsley that were next to score. David Currie ran onto a Broddle pass to slip the ball past Tim Cater, and whilst the goalkeeper produced a fantastic save to repel an Owen Archdeacon thunderbolt the next wave saw the Tykes continue their charge as Carl Tiler reacted first to another Archdeacon effort coming off the bar.
Sunderland were suddenly looking shaky but for any neutrals watching this was exciting stuff. There were fresh incidents every few seconds, with Marco Gabbiadini having the ball in the net after he charged down a Baker clearance but seeing it ruled out, Smith being reprimanded by Scott and sent back into his dugout and future Roker midfielder Steve Agnew getting taken off after being cut above his eye. Things were on a knife edge, but then an excellent link up between Ord and Pascoe found Bennett unmarked in the middle of the penalty area – he had been up for a free kick that was then recycled – and he laced the ball in first time.
It was a composed finish out of keeping with some of the frantic play seen in the build-up but from then on in the Rokermen were able to slow things down and use their nous. Patched up and putting a shift in, they had stood up to the physical challenge well and shown brilliant finishing when it was needed. The only question now was how long would it take for Smelt to get the treatment tables cleared?
Tuesday 31 October 1989
Football League Division Two
Sunderland 4 (Gates 30’, 44’, Hardyman (pen) 51’, Bennett 65’)
Barnsley 2 (Currie 54’, Tiler 57’)
Sunderland: Carter; Kay, Bennett, MacPhail (Ord 14’), Hardyman; Owers, Bracewell (Cullen 46’), Armstrong, Pascoe; Gates, Gabbiadini.
Roker Park, attendance 14,234