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Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne had shone for England at Italia 90. It had been a competition that had opened a new chapter for football in England, after the hooliganism-marred 80s.
During Italia 90, football had become fun again, a sport for everyone, and it was a seminal moment that hugely influenced what followed in 90s football, music and pop culture.
While love had got the world in motion in Italy, Gazza had won the hearts of the nation, and Gary Lineker, who’d returned from a successful spell with Barcelona to link up with his former manager Terry Venables at White Hart Lane a season earlier, had enjoyed a something of an international redemption, after the hepatitis-ruined Euro 88.
It was fitting that, on Sunderland’s return to the top flight, Gazza and Lineker should line up against the lads on Roker Park’s opening night; however, by the time the reverse fixture rolled around, the optimism that naturally comes with a new season had been tempered somewhat.
The lads had racked up just three wins in 15 games, and while we probably hadn’t accumulated the points that performances had deserved, it was getting to the point where we needed to begin picking up more points.
While we’d made a lot of friends and won admirers with our style of play and approach to the game – bar a game full of needle at Bramall Lane which, ironically, had given us our only three points on the road so far – those performances hadn’t translated into results, which Denis Smith was only too aware of as his team headed to the capital.
I’ve been telling the players to keep playing as they are, because if they do, results will come.
Colin Pascoe, a Welsh international forward who could drift past people and had an eye for both a pass and a goal, had missed a large chunk of proceedings so far, making his first appearance of the season in November. He’d been missed, and after 10 minutes underlined exactly why.
It was Gascoigne – a mercurial talent who, during the course of this season, played what would end up being, arguably, the best football of his career – who drove forward in midfield, only to be halted by a strong tackle from Paul Bracewell.
The ball was worked to Davenport and then Gabbiadini, who each could have taken a shot on, but worked the ball out to Armstong. His shot was saved by Norwegian goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, and Pascoe was on hand to tap home.
And, just 12 minutes later, the lads went two. Davenport, the former England striker who’d not had the best of times at Middlesbrough following a big-money move from Manchester United, carried the ball towards the Spurs goal. He got a bit lucky when the ball came back to him off defender Mitchell Thomas, but he buried past Thorstvedt. 2-0, and the away end was in a state of delirious disbelief.
While Gazza may have played some of his best football during this campaign, he wasn’t enjoying the best of afternoons. He was in his ‘showman’ mood – playing to the crowd rather than focusing entirely on the game and getting involved in every off-the-ball incident he could – while imparting consistent advice to the referee. A booking in the second half followed for a scuffle with John Kay, who also saw yellow.
Sunderland’s game plan, which saw them go in 2-0 up at the break, owed much to a high press that strangled the space for Gascoigne to work in – hence the frustration – but in the second half, Spurs came out a different team and a quick double from Paul Walsh drew the game level.
First, he took advantage of poor marking to knock home a Gascoigne free kick, and then his shot took a deflection off Armstrong past Tony Norman.
A Spurs winner looked inevitable, but Sunderland rallied. A Gabbiadini pass found Pascoe, who cracked the ball home on 75 minutes, and Sunderland looked a good bet to take all three points back to Wearside.
But, deep in stoppage time – in those days, no one bar the ref knew how much time was going to be added on - Walsh’s cross ballooned up off John Kay’s boot, and Lineker was there to head home from close range.
It was cruel, but Sunderland could take heart from the fact they’d gone toe-to-toe with possibly the most glamourous side in the country, and in reality should have beaten them.