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On This Day (1st May 1993): Butcher’s Sunderland claim an unlikely three points at Roker!

It was the final home game of the season back in 1993 and against all odds, Terry Butcher’s side managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and claim maximum points against high-flying Pompey.

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/EMPICS via Getty Images

Looking back on this date in terms of Sunderland A.F.C., the obvious choice today is winning our first FA Cup back in 1937 - but we’ve covered that over the previous two years which you can read here and here. So, this time around we are going back to a miracle that occurred in May 1993, that effectively saved us from dropping down to the third tier.

The year after our FA Cup final appearance in 1992 was painful. The Lads continued to struggle in the Second Division, despite it only being the second season since dropping out of the top flight, and it was also Kevin Keegan’s first full season up the road and they were flying.

Malcolm Crosby wasn’t able to take advantage of our cup exploits from the season before and new additions to the squad were limited to Shaun Cunnington from Grimsby Town, John Colquhoun from Millwall and Terry Butcher joined as a free agent. Two wins from the first eight league fixtures suggested this would not be enough.

By late January, it was clear we were in a fight to preserve our status in Division Two and following a 2-1 home defeat to Steve Perryman’s Watford, Malcolm Crosby was sacked as manager of Sunderland A.F.C with the club sitting 17th in the table, five places above the drop.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Liverpool v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium
Malcolm Crosby leading Sunderland out for the FA Cup final in May 1992
Photo by Ross Kinnaird - PA Images via Getty Images

Seven days later we were back at Roker Park to face Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon Town with an ex-England international teammate of his in charge after Terry Butcher was named as player-manager. Swindon would win via a Paul Bodin goal - we missed two penalties.

Fast forward to our last home game of the season on the 1st May and after defeat at St James’ Park the previous week, we had dropped to 20th and more significantly, only one point above Brentford who occupied the final relegation spot.

Our opponents were Jim Smith’s Portsmouth, who were on course for a potentially historic season. The previous year's beaten semi-finalists were in a three-way shoot-out along with the mags and West Ham United to take an automatic promotion place to the Premier League.

Pompey had won their previous five successive games and on the morning of the game, Jim Smith had been presented manager of the month for April. Terry Butcher’s side on the other hand, had won only once in the previous ten games and looked to be heading for the drop.

Soccer - Barclay’s League Division Two - Tranmere Rovers v Sunderland
Don Goodman
Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Incredibly, 21,309 were in attendance at Roker, which other than the Tyne-Wear derby, was our biggest crowd of the season. This number was boosted by the estimated 6,000 that had travelled up from the south coast that occupied the whole of the Roker End and were probably expecting a routine victory against a struggling Sunderland side.

What happened next would not have been predicted by any Sunderland fan prior to kick-off.

With around ten minutes remaining of the first half, a Gary Owers free-kick was only partially punched clear by Pompey goalkeeper Alan Knight, which resulted in Gordon Armstrong lobbing the ball towards goal towards an empty net, only to see defender Guy Butters punch the ball clear. Butters received a red card and Don Goodman gave the Lads the lead from the spot.

It remained 1-0 at the break, despite a disallowed Gary Bennett goal ruled out for offside, but it only took six minutes of the second half to double our lead and once again it was Goodman from the spot after he had been brought down by Kit Symons. Around five minutes later, we were in dreamland when Martin Gray made it 3-0 after playing a neat one-two with Peter Davenport on the edge of the box in front of the Fulwell End.

Portsmouth didn’t know what had hit them and they could see an automatic promotion spot slipping through their fingers, which resulted in Paul Walsh being the second player to be shown the red card after a second bookable offence. This was followed up with an altercation with a steward and damage to the away dressing room.

Soccer - Barclays League Division One - Notts County v Sunderland - Meadow Lane
Terry Butcher leaving the field at Notts County after we had just survived relegation
Photo by Graham Chadwick/EMPICS via Getty Images

Gordon Armstrong took full advantage of being two players to the good by adding a fourth before Guy Whittingham bagged a consolation goal for the visitors (Whittingham would finish with a final tally of 47 goals at the end of the season) before the final whistle went.

We didn’t pick up another point in the remaining two games and stayed up by only one point as we relied on other results to go our way on the final day as we lost 3-1 at Notts County. These three points saved us from relegation.

As for Portsmouth, they ultimately missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference - with West Ham United being four goals better off - which was followed by defeat to Leicester City in the play-off semi-final.


Saturday 1st May, 1993

Division One

Sunderland 4-1 Portsmouth

[Goodman (pen) 36’, (pen) 51’, Ma. Gray 57’, Armstrong 76’ - Whittingham 86’]

[Butters sent-off 35’, Walsh sent-off 69’]

Sunderland: Norman, Ma. Gray, Butcher, Bennett (Colquhoun), Mi. Gray, Owers, Atkinson, Cunnington (Howey), Armstrong, Goodman, Davenport

Portsmouth: Knight, Awford, Symons, Daniel, Butters, Chamberlain, McLoughlin, Neill (Lawrence), Kristensen (Aspinall), Walsh, Whittingham

Attendance: 21,309


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