There was a fresh feeling about the English football league and Sunderland Association Football Club at the beginning of the 1981-82 season.
For a start, it was the first season that three points were awarded for a win, which would take some getting used to when working out what we required to stay in the top flight, having survived by only two points the previous year.
At Roker, Alan Durban had left Stoke City to become our new manager. New additions came in the form of Iain Munro, who followed Durban from the Potters, and Ally McCoist, who became the club’s record signing, from St Johnstone, for £355,000.
The opening day provided much hope for the season ahead as we came away from UEFA Cup holders Ipswich Town with a 3-3 draw. It was only a late brace from Eric Gates that earned Bobby Robson’s side a point on a day that Nick Pickering also made his debut for the Lads.
A home win against Ron Saunders’ Aston Villa followed, leaving us feeling dizzy in the top five of the First Division. However, this is Sunderland, and one win in the next 16 games went some way to killing off any hope and ambition that the season might have held.
By the time Bobby Robson’s Ipswich arrived at Roker at the beginning of April to play out a 1-1 draw, Durban’s side were on the back of a run that included only one win in 12 and were rooted to the foot of the table.
A trip to Durban’s former club Stoke three days later provided a much-needed three points with a 1-0 win. Two days after that we were in dreamland as we experienced successive victories for the first time that season with a 2-0 win over Birmingham City at Roker.
Two goals in the last ten minutes at Keith Burkinshaw’s Tottenham Hotspur then earned the Lads a 2-2 draw before Howard Kendall’s Everton came to town on this day back in 1982. The Toffeemen were making strides under Kendall and were in a mid-table position in Division One.
Despite the recent good form, Sunderland were in desperate need of points, they remained second bottom of the table and two points from safety, but it was also exactly 12 months to the day since we had won at Roker in a 3pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon.
In the early exchanges, the home side looked the better side and Colin West forced a save from Neville Southall. On 18 minutes the deadlock was broken when Mick Buckley swung a free-kick into the area and Gary Rowell found himself unmarked and six yards out to nod home.
Five minutes before the break, however, disaster struck. Stan Cummins was in possession in the Sunderland penalty area and played the ball square across the face of the goal, where Alan Irvine was there to scramble past Chris Turner and level things up.
Ten minutes after the break, Sunderland were gifted an opportunity to retake the lead when Billy Wright punched the ball clear when it was heading for goal - a crime that would result in a red card in today’s game but didn’t even produce a yellow back in 1982. Gary Rowell stepped up and calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner to make it 2-1.
Around 15 minutes later, we created some breathing space by adding a third. Stan Cummins on the Sunderland right was the architect when he cut inside and crossed the ball to find the head of Colin West, who, after seeing his initial header parried by Southall, reacted to place in the corner to make it 3-1.
Everton huffed and puffed, with Kevin Richardson hitting the post to heighten the nerves, but the Lads held out to move out of the bottom three for the first time since October and three wins in the last six kept us up by two points - in the first season where three points were awarded for a win.
Saturday 17th April, 1982
Sunderland 3-1 Everton
[Rowell 18’, 55’ (pen), West 69’ - Irvine 40’]
Sunderland: Turner, Hinningan, Munro, Hindmarch, Chisholm, Elliott, Buckley, West, Rowell, Pickering, Cummins Substitute not used: Ursem
Everton: Southall, Borrows, Ratcliffe, Higgins, Wright, McMahon, Irvine (Lyons), Heath, Ferguson, Richardson