Fresh from a three game tour of the Republic of Ireland, Peter Reid’s preparations for the 1995-96 campaign continued on this day with their first English warm-up of the summer – and with the game played in soaring temperatures that is exactly what it was.
Followed by a reported 1,000 supporters from Wearside, the match saw the Lads making a short journey down to A19 to take part in a testimonial against York City on behalf of Tony Canham, a fan favourite who had made well over 300 appearances for the club but had recently joined Hartlepool United having just been released.
A pacy yet skilful winger, one of his best performances for the Minstermen had been at Roker Park in 1986, when alongside Marco Gabbiadini and Ricky Sbragia he was part of a team that eventually dumped Lawrie McMenemy’s side out of the League Cup on away goals.
Kicking off amidst a heatwave, Reid later claimed that he had not experienced football in weather so severe since he had played in the FIFA World Cup in Mexico nearly a decade before.
Suffering from sunstroke, Craig Russell had to be attended to by the York doctor afterwards and the conditions meant that the action often had to be kept at a walking pace.
Nevertheless, Sunderland worked as hard as possible and in the final ten minutes secured a rare come-from-behind win.
The side had struggled for large parts of the preceding years and found it particularly hard when trailing, but under Reid, whose position had now been made permanent after he’d enjoyed an immediate impact upon his arrival as temporary boss in March, there were signs of a growing confidence.
The hosts took the lead when clever wing play from Scott Jordan set up Paul Barnes, but the response was good and the scores were soon level when Phil Gray challenged goalkeeper Dean Kiely for a high cross and flicked the loose ball in – albeit the goal was disputed by York, who felt there had been a foul.
Sunderland didn’t look back however, and as the match wore on Gray’s second was a lot more clear cut. One of the few to remain following a raft of changes, he struck a well hit drive into the bottom corner to make it 2-1, and soon after Lee Howey put the game beyond reach when he was picked out by Brian Atkinson.
The pair had both been brought on by Reid as he looked to utilise fresh legs and avoid the starting XI becoming dehydrated, although he was soon forced to reintroduce Phil’s namesake Michael when Paul Heckingbottom had an attack of cramp. Making his first appearance for the club having joined recently from Manchester United, the fullback had impressed and was otherwise set to see out the full 90.
Phil had scored a last gasp winner at Bootham Crescent a year before and had been the centre of attention again in the build up to his latest friendly goals at the same venue.
Rumours had been circulating of an approach for the Northern Ireland international by Crystal Palace, but once everybody had had a chance to cool off in the changing rooms at full-time Reid was keen to quash the story when speaking to the press.
Gray would indeed stay on for another season and chipped in with some important contributions on the way to promotion, but it was Russell who enjoyed a more figurative ‘day in the sun’, top scoring for Sunderland as the revival continued and they became Division One champions.
Saturday 29 July 1995
Tony Canham testimonial
York City 1 (Barnes 39’)
Sunderland 3 (P. Gray 42’, 80, Howey 83’)
Sunderland: Chamberlain; Kubicki, Ball (Melville 46’), Ord (Bennett 58’), Heckingbottom (Mi. Gray 74’); Mi. Gray (Ma. Gray 55’), Smith (Atkinson 46’), Agnew (Bracewell 46’), Armstrong (Russell 46’); Angell (Howey 58’), P. Gray.
Bootham Crescent, attendance 2,391