People are not meant to pay attention to the league table until at least ten games in apparently, but any Sunderland fans taking a sneak peek at full time on this day in 1980 will have had a pleasant surprise – the Lads were top of the tree!
Back in the topflight having secured promotion, the new campaign had began at the weekend with a comprehensive 3-1 home win over Everton and continued with a midweek trip to Maine Road to take on Manchester City.
These were the type of big name established clubs Sunderland wanted to be rubbing shoulders with, yet the Toffees and Citizens had both struggled the season before and would provide an indication therefore of whether Ken Knighton’s squad could make the step up – failure to impress against two of the weaker teams may have spelled danger.
The opener had provided plenty of encouragement in that regard, but heading out on the road may have been another matter.
Although City had finished in a disappointing 17th place their team was expensively assembled and their manager Malcolm Allison had form for spoiling the party having engineered a shock FA Cup quarter-final victory at Roker for Crystal Palace in 1976.
The visitors came under some early pressure in Moss Side too, but after weathering the storm they started getting a foothold and by the end had managed to make things looks easy.
The momentum gained from going up in second place in Division Two contributed no doubt to Sunderland’s confidence. Old boy Dennis Tueart did go close for the hosts but the Lads’ harrying made a difference and resulted in them taking the lead when Gordon Chisholm, in the starting XI due to Kevin Arnott failing a fitness test, won possession from Tommy Caton with a strong challenge to set away the first goal.
The ball was moved quickly through Mick Buckley and Alan Brown to tee up Stan Cummins, and once he’d side footed home the night was up and running.
Moving through the gears in the second half, it was 2-0 when Shaun Elliott’s surging run saw him fouled in the box. John Hawley, who had already scored from the spot against Everton, stepped up to put away an almost identical penalty here and he extended the advantage just a few minutes later with a composed effort from 18 yards.
The chance came courtesy of a slip from Joe Corrigan, and whilst City were not helping themselves most of the credit had to go to Knighton’s men.
This was proving to be a well-balanced showing of power and skill, summed up perfectly by Hawley’s hattrick strike in which he bundled Dragoslav Stepanovic off the ball before cutting inside and rifling his shot into the net. With four points now and a goal difference of six the Rokerites were flying high, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, City were propping everybody up.
There wasn’t enough to maintain the good start and the threat of relegation was only fully extinguished in the wake of another superb away showing, this time at Liverpool on the final afternoon, but the signs were clearly there from the off – Sunderland deserved to be in Division One…
Wednesday 20 August 1980
Football League Division One
Manchester City 0
Sunderland 4 (Cummins 12’, Hawley 47’, 53’, 78’)
Sunderland: Siddall, Whitworth, Bolton, Allardyce, Elliott, Hindmarch, Chisholm, Buckley (Robson 87’), Hawley, Brown, Cummins.
Maine Road, attendance 33,271