Peter Taylor’s midweek departure from Southend United meant that Sunderland had to be wary of a new manager bounce on this day in 1995. Director of Football Steve Thompson was now due to oversee the Shrimpers as they hosted Mick Buxton’s men, who arrived at Roots Hall with their own reasons to be optimistic having beaten Watford 24 hours prior to the managerial switch.
The Vicarage Road victory had been long overdue, seeing as it had been over two months since the Lads had last secured a league win. It had been a hard fought success too, with Sunderland being forced to soak up the pressure from the promotion-seeking Hornets after taking an early lead through Craig Russell. Their five man defence dug deep though, and so Buxton was keen to see more of the same – opting to go with the same formation at Southend.
The plans may have been scuppered by an illness to Andy Melville, but with Gary Bennett now available again having served a suspension this was the only change to the starting XI. The home team meanwhile were keen to make an impression on Thompson but following a bright start the game soon turned into a scrappy affair, with neither side able to settle into any real sort of rhythm.
Derek Ferguson did see one effort go narrowly wide as Sunderland attempted to get themselves going, but it said a lot that the closet either team went in the opening stages was when a defensive mix-up saw Andy Edwards head the ball past his own goalkeeper Paul Sansome and only just wide of the goal; a fortunate escape indeed - but the stopper’s luck was about to run out.
The Rokermen had managed to get a bit of a foothold as the first half wore on and just before the break they went ahead when Steve Agnew took aim from outside the box. It was the midfielder’s first goal for the club, but it owed a lot to a massive deflection off Shane Westley that left Sansome completely wrong-footed. Nevertheless, it was celebrated widely by around 800 away fans located behind the net whose vociferous support drew praise in the local press come Monday.
Also in the crowd was former Sunderland goalkeeper Tim Carter, who had recently been on loan at Millwall and whose parent club Hartlepool United were willing to allow leave on a permanent basis. He eventually returned to the Lions, yet had Carter still been on the books at Roker he could very well have been watching from the bench instead of the stands owing to another suspension, this time for Alec Chamberlain.
His absence meant David Preece was named as a substitute for only the second time in his senior career, and whilst he wasn’t required in the end another former Southmoor pupil did get on the pitch to try and help see out the match. Forward Stephen Brodie went close to extending the lead too, with his clever chip only just being pushed onto the bar by Sansome. Had the effort gone in it would have wrapped things up nicely, but if anything, the near miss spurred Southend on to try and mount a grandstand finish.
Chamberlain had recently lost his spot in the side to Tony Norman, who despite turning 37 the day before the fixture was looking as sprightly as ever. He had to be at his best as well to prevent a late equaliser, saving brilliantly from Julian Hails, and with Gary Jones going close too the Lads were grateful to overcome the late flurry and confirm another dogged win.
The points rounded off a productive week on the road that had seen two rare outings for kit manufacturers Avec’s red shorts, but more importantly taken Buxton and Co out of the relegation zone. The surge was to prove short-lived however and the manager would soon find himself joining Taylor at the job centre whilst his replacement, a certain Peter Reid, set about getting the club bouncing once again.
Saturday 25 February 1995
Endsleigh League Division One
Southend United 0
Sunderland 1 (Agnew 44)
Sunderland: Norman; Kubicki, Bennett, Ball, Ord, Scott; Smith (Brodie 77), Ferguson, Agnew, Russell (Armstrong 90); P. Gray. Unused: Preece
Roots Hall, attendance 4,686