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On This Day (19 December 1981): Oh what fun it is to see Sunderland win away!

Dashing through the snow, two points on their way… 

The Lads in 1981-82, as seen in the 1982 Sunderland annual

Bottom of the table Sunderland went into their match against Manchester City on this day on the back of three consecutive losses, and it must have felt to manager Alan Durban as if everything was going against him.

Desperate to strengthen his squad, he had seen several potential deals fall through in recent weeks but the latest hitch he encountered was arguably the hardest to take so far; Northern Ireland international Jimmy Nicholl had agreed to join the club but at the eleventh hour came the news that his registration had not been completed in time for him to feature at Maine Road, and that he would have to wait a little while longer for his debut.

This development, plus the late withdrawal of Iain Munro through injury, threw Durban’s plans up into the air. The country was already suffering a vicious cold snap and whilst he later joked about hoping for further blizzards to help him out, in all seriousness a weather enforced postponement might have been a good thing at this stage. The snowstorms had seen several other fixtures being knocked on the head but Sunderland happened to be visiting one of the few grounds with undersoil heating, so even that small mercy was off the cards!

With only one other Division One game taking place the clash took on extra significance – the cameras were present for the following day’s various ITV regional highlights shows, and in the second half there was live commentary on national radio. Fans tuning in will have soon heard the Lads surrender a narrow half time lead – but maybe the extra attention brought the best out of the side as they came roaring back to secure a memorable win and remind the rest of the country that despite recent form, they were anything but also-rans.

Uncovered sections of the stands were unoccupied and with large mounds of snow piled up around the side of the pitch and freezing cold temperatures it took both sides a while to fully warm up, although the surface itself was in good condition and over time chances were able to be created at both ends. It was proving to be quite an open affair, and when the opener came it was from the top drawer – Stan Cummins hitting home a beauty across goalkeeper Joe Corrigan from outside the box.

Gary Rowell, scorer of a vital goal on this day, as seen in the 1982 Sunderland annual

That was shortly before the interval and there was a further boost when the sides re-emerged from the changing rooms with the confirmation that Dennis Tueart was to be substituted – the former Roker favourite had gone off needing treatment just after Cummins’ strike but was unable to continue. He had been one of the players recently said to be interesting Durban but once the prospect of an emotional transfer had died out, he’d hit a purple patch in sky blue and reaffirmed his place as one of City’s dangermen.

Nevertheless, they quickly got themselves back into things when Trevor Francis scored from close range. It wasn’t long until John Bond’s men were ahead either when the England international got his second of the afternoon, but whilst the many neutrals following it may have assumed this was now just going to be another bog standard defeat for a relegation threatened side there was to be a sting in the tail.

Ally McCoist gave City a warning when he fired wide following a terrible defensive error but it was to be another of Sunderland’s young bucks that made the difference in the final ten minutes. Tommy Caton struck the bar from distance for the home team but within seconds of coming on for Joe Hinnigan, who had done well to match the pace for so long in his first outing for over two months, Barry Venison had started the move that brought his team level.

Making only his 13th appearance in senior football, the 17 year old had barley broken stride after running on when he collected possession, moved into space and spread it wide to Cummins. From there the ball was whipped across the box for Gary Rowell to sweep into the net calmly, with Venison charging off excitedly as the celebrations began. The Blues did rally thereafter, but the youth product was only getting started; with just three minutes left he got his first goal in red and white (candy) stripes when he ran towards a half clearance and blasted a ferocious half-volley in from the corner of the box.

Dubbed ‘the Big Snow’ in the press, the cold wave continued for several more weeks and meant that the match against Manchester City was to be Sunderland’s last of 1981. They had ended the year in style though with a dramatic win, only their third of the season in the league, and whilst there were to be no more big name reinforcements during the season the squad were still able to pull themselves away from danger, beating City again in the return match on the final day to confirm survival.

Saturday 19 December 1981

Football League Division One

Manchester City 2 (Francis 47’, 56’)

Sunderland 3 (Cummins 44’, Rowell 82’, Venison 87’)

Sunderland: Siddall; Hinnigan (Venison 82’), Hindmarch, Clarke, Pickering; Buckley, Elliott, Ritchie, Cummins; McCoist, Rowell.

Maine Road, attendance 29,462


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