Following what was a pretty impressive turnaround the previous season when Mick Buxton took over from the sacked Terry Butcher, the 1994-95 season was Buxton’s first full season in charge.
By Halloween, it all seemed to be going smoothly, with the Lads sitting in 8th in Endsleigh League Division One, providing hopes for a playoff push. But by the time the FA Cup campaign kicked off early in the new year, with a banana skin-type draw against Carlisle United at Roker Park, Buxton’s side had dropped into the lower reaches of the table.
A disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Carlisle was put right in Cumbria, where two goals from Gordon Armstrong were backed up with one from Phil Gray to round off a comfortable 3-1 win.
Next up, the draw then handed Sunderland a glamour tie against Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round at Roker Park, and Gerry Francis’ side had made the headlines during that season for a variety of reasons.
During the summer, they had not only been kicked out of the FA Cup and docked six points for financial irregularities, but they had also brought German superstar Jurgen Klinsmann to England for a princely sum of around £2m.
But by the turn of the year, both penalties had been overturned on appeal, and manager at the time Ossie Ardiles had been replaced by former England international and ex-QPR manager, Gerry Francis.
Buxton decided to drop with the 4-4-2 system that had been deployed across the season and added Lee Howey to his back line to go five at the back, with Phil Gray being the lone striker supported by Martin Smith and Craig Russell down the flanks.
In the early stages of the game it was all about Spurs’ German striker and due to the reputation he arrived with as someone who might slightly overreact to a tackle, which caused stick from the Roker faithful, but around five minutes before half-time this was possibly proved to be justified.
Howey stretched out a boot to clearly win the ball in a challenge with Klinsmann, only for the German to theatrically tumble, where the resultant free-kick and yellow card brandished to Howey only went to fuel the flames on the terraces.
It went into the break goalless as neither side really threatened in the opening period and the second tier side were very much still in the tie. But five minutes after the break, the pivotal moment of the game arrived.
A Teddy Sheringham shot sailed over Alec Chamberlain and came back off the post to the feet of Darren Anderton, who then squared to back into the area to find Gica Popescu, who found his shot handled on the line by Gary Bennett. It was an obvious penalty, and an obvious red card.
Klinsmann coolly scored from the spot, then Sheringham clipped a left foot shot in beyond Chamberlain around five minutes later to put the tie beyond doubt. Less than ten minutes later an Andy Melville own goal enabled the away side to cruise, so much so that Phil Gray pulled one back against his former club from a Martin Scott cross.
But Spurs appeared to be able to score whenever they felt like it and Klinsmann completed his brace with moments remaining to put his side through to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
Sunday 29th January, 1995
Sunderland 1-4 Tottenham Hotspur
[P. Gray 73’ (Bennett sent-off 51’) - Klinsmann (pen) 51’, 86’, Sheringham 57’, Melville (OG) 64’]
Sunderland: Chamberlain, Kubicki, Melville, Howey, Bennett, Scott, Smith, Ferguson, Armstrong (Ma. Gray), Russell, P. Gray Substitutes not used: Norman, Mi. Gray
Tottenham Hotspur: Walker, Campbell, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh, Anderton, Popescu, Howells (Nethercott), Barmby, Klinsmann, Sheringham Substitutes not used: Day, Caskey