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On This Day (8 April 1980): Big shift over Easter puts Sunderland in promotion driving seat

The Lads rounded off a gruelling schedule with a win on this day that left them sitting pretty in the second division!

Sunderland 1979-80. Image from the Oldham Athletic (Anglo Scottish Cup) edition of the Roker Review.

The Easter period is often the most hectic time in the football calendar, not least in 1980 when Ken Knighton’s Sunderland were in the hunt for promotion. A famous derby victory over Newcastle United the day after Good Friday was followed by a Bank Holiday Monday win in Wrexham, and after staying in the west overnight the Lads then had to face Shrewsbury Town 43 years ago today.

The Lads had a little over 24 hours to prepare for the fixture and their task was made even more difficult through the absence of the influential Jeff Clarke, who missed his first game of the season having picked up a hamstring problem in Wales. It at least opened up a spot for birthday boy Gordon Chisholm, who celebrated turning 20 by filling in seamlessly and producing an assured display.

It was the man behind him that took most of the plaudits though, with Chris Turner pulling off numerous eye catching saves to keep the Shrews at bay. The goalkeeper had made his debut earlier in the campaign and had since made the number one spot his own, with performances such as this showing exactly what he was capable of.

One of the several Salopians left scratching their head at Turner’s reflexes was his future Roker teammate, Ian Atkins. Always a versatile operator and somebody who would later return to Wearside for a stint as assistant manager to Terry Butcher, Atkins was the home team’s man of the match, but he could find no way past the in form stopper and with the red and white army travelling in huge numbers despite the distances and costs involved each stop was greeted wildly.

Shrewsbury Town 1979-80. Image from the Shrewsbury edition of the Roker Review.

Nearly 4,000 more fans had come through the turnstiles than had been present for Shrewsbury’s last game at Gay Meadow, and with the hosts having enjoyed two days off since their previous fixture those in attendance expected them to be the fresher of the two sides. There was little sign of fatigue from Alan Brown however, who had impressed against Wrexham and was again quick out of the starting blocks in Shropshire – he collected a wonderful through ball from Chisholm and raced through the centre circle to create an early opener.

Leaving several defenders in his wake, Brown was soon bearing down on goal before allowing Pop Robson to take over and prod home to make it 1-0. Sunderland continued to look lively after that too, and even after being pegged back in the opening minutes of the second half they still had enough in the tank to fire back quickly.

The equaliser was a scruffy effort and even then Turner was remarkably unlucky; he initially made a fantastic close range block to keep out Steve Biggins and whilst Trevor Birch was handily placed to nod the rebound in it was only just – Turner had managed to spring up and get a hand onto the ball only to see it bounce off the post and over the line. The response was almost instant though, and after Rob Hindmarch had a header cleared off the line by David Tong the next goal was a lot easier on the eye.

Kevin Arnott, who had scored a late winner when the sides had met four months earlier, touched a free kick towards Stan Cummins who curled a vicious shot around the wall and into the net. It was a strike worthy of winning any game, but it was Chris’ twisting and turning at the other end that made sure of a third crucial Easter win in only four days.

The promotion push had been well planned, and after the points took Sunderland into the automatic spots for the first time in the campaign it wouldn’t be long until they rose again into Division One.

Saturday 2 April 1932

Football League Division Two

Shrewsbury Town 1 (Birch 46)

Sunderland 2 (Robson 6, Cummins 48)

Sunderland: Turner; Whitworth, Chisholm, Hindmarch, Hinnigan; Arnott, Elliott, Dunn, Cummins; Brown, Robson. Unused: Buckley

Gay Meadow, attendance 12,345


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