After surviving relegation by the skin of our teeth at Meadow Lane at the end of the 1992-93 season, Terry Butcher knew he had a rebuilding job on his hands.
This meant that the summer of 1993 saw something of a reset at Roker Park, where the manager was backed arguably more in the transfer market than any other Sunderland manager had for decades.
Big money, for the time at least, was shelled out to bring in Phil Gray and goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain from Luton Town, Derek Ferguson from Heart of Midlothian, Andy Melville from Oxford United and Ian Rodgerson from Birmingham City - and as a result, the expectation levels lifted above fighting at the wrong end of the table.
However, all of those players listed above other than Alec Chamberlain were involved in a serious car accident in the week before the first game of the season - which resulted in a 5-0 defeat at the Baseball Ground against Derby County, with former Sunderland striker Marco Gabbiadini getting on the score sheet.
One win in the next six left Butcher’s side locked in the bottom three in the table, but a win at Roker in the League Cup against Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United from the Premier League was the catalyst for two draws and a victory in the league that lifted hopes of a turnaround.
Three days before the visit of Terry Cooper’s Birmingham City on this day in 1993, Sunderland travelled to Elland Road for the second leg of the League Cup tie against Leeds and despite an overwhelming feeling that the top-flight club would overturn the first leg deficit, the Lads won 2-1.
This meant Sunderland went into the fixture against the Blues on a run of five without defeat which gave Butcher an entirely different problem as he discussed in the run up to kick-off:
After the win at Leeds everyone is full of confidence and we could well get a 20,000 crowd expecting us to swamp Birmingham. There is a danger of an anti-climax. It’s happened here before after a good victory.
Things have sometimes fallen flat the next game and we shall have to protect against that. Birmingham have a lot of injuries but they are still a side capable of doing well and they won here twice last season.
However, we have become pretty formidable at Roker Park and there is a new bubble and spirit about the place. It was coming through even before the second Leeds game lifted us more. It seems it’s feast or famine here.
Butcher did have a decision to make however, due to the suspension to striker Phil Gray, who scored at Leeds days earlier, and a failed bid to bring Mo Johnston to Roker on-loan from Everton in the day before the game provided an opportunity for Lee Howey to deputise.
A pretty sterile game had only three worthy incidents of note to live in the memories of the 19,265 in attendance at Roker Park.
Firstly, it was one to remember for Lee Howey on the half hour when he received the ball from John Kay, and after turning Richard Dryden inside out on the edge of the box, curled a perfect left-foot shot into the far corner past goalkeeper Kevin Miller.
Although the visitors looked toothless, Sunderland were unavailable to take advantage and extend the lead, and the home side were dealt a blow just before the break.
As the ball broke between Sunderland’s Kay and City’s Dryden, Kay’s situation was typical of the full-back and was described in the Journal as:
Typically going for a ball for which the odds were at least 70-30 against him - and winning it!
Unfortunately for the red and white tractor, he came out of the collision clearly injured and after initially rising to his feet, it was clear to anyone who was aware of the character of Kay that things were serious when he collapsed back to the floor.
The stretcher arrived and unsurprisingly, he insisted on sitting up and motioned to row himself off the pitch while on the stretcher. After the game it was confirmed that it was a broken leg and he would be out for the rest of the season - news that hit even harder due to the fact he had just returned after two months out with a fractured cheekbone.
With around ten minutes left on the clock, the away side’s task was made even more difficult when Paul Mardon received a red card after he was judged to have elbowed Richard Ord during an aerial challenge for the ball.
The game finished 1-0 with Sunderland taking all three points and rising to 17th in the Division One table which prompted a quip from Butcher in the post-match press conference:
We’ll get nose bleeds at these dizzy heights.
Saturday 9th October, 1993
Sunderland 1-0 Birmingham City
[Howey 30’ - (Mardon sent-off 81’)]
Sunderland: Chamberlain, Kay (Rush), Bennett, Ball, Ord, Owers, Ferguson, Ma. Gray, Russell, Goodman, Howey Substitute not used: Norman, Mi. Gray
Birmingham City: Miller, Scott, Dryden, Whyte, Frain, Donowa (McMinn), Mardon, Tait, Smith, Shutt, Peschisolido (Hooper) Substitute not used: Steadman