The 1983-84 season was a testing time on Wearside. Manager Alan Durban was tasked with overseeing a new team filled with young hopefuls, along with a couple of experienced pros around them.
Funds at the club were very tight. The club - and chairman Tom Cowie - run a very tight ship. This impacted the relationship between Durban and Sunderland’s owner, who didn’t always see eye to eye.
The manager struggled with boardroom interference, and a quickly deteriorating relationship with chairman Sir Tom Cowie meant the side struggled in Durban’s second season.
The Welshman had made some decent signings around this time. Bringing in the talented and classy midfielder Paul Bracewell had added some star quality to the Sunderland midfield, but his performances weren’t enough for the Sunderland manager to keep his job.
Tom Cowie was not in the mood to show patience, cutting a frustrated figure with how things were going at the club in general.
The chairman was kept himself around the squad and management more than any manager would want - with much of his frustration pointed towards £100,000 signing Lee Chapman, who was struggling to score since his move from Arsenal.
At the end of February, the form of the team was not great and Cowie eventually bit the bullet, hoping a change of manager may improve the fortunes of the club.
Narrowly losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford left Sunderland four points from the drop zone, but it was the final straw for Cowie, who sacked Durban in the aftermath of this defeat.
On this day, he replaced him with veteran forward Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson.
Robson had rejoined the club for his third spell this season and made a decent contribution to the team considering he was 38 at this stage.
Being one of the most experienced pros at the club at this time, Robson was tasked with taking over the team for their next game after Durban’s sacking.
This game was against Arsenal where Robson resisted the temptation to start himself in it. In front of a crowd of 15,370, Gary Rowell’s 89th minute penalty rescued a draw against Don Howe’s after Mark Proctor’s 7th minute goal was wiped out by goals from Charlie Nicholas and Tony Woodcock.
After the credible draw under Robson’s stewardship, Len Ashurst took over the reins for the rest of the season.
Despite his brief spell as manager, Robson’s biggest moment at the club in the 1983-84 season came in the final game against Leicester City - where the local lad scored a vital goal in the 2-0 win.
That last-day goal bizzarely jettisoned Sunderland to a misleading 13th place in a table so tight that we went into the final fixture of going down had results gone against us.
As for Robson, his goal made him the club’s oldest-ever scorer at 38 years and 182 days.