Ha’way Back When: Great day for Gary Owers in memorable Sunderland triumph against Manchester United

Gary Owers heads past Les Sealey to put Sunderland ahead against Manchester United in 1990. Pictures by Gilbert Johnston.
Gary Owers heads past Les Sealey to put Sunderland ahead against Manchester United in 1990. Pictures by Gilbert Johnston.
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Sunderland 2 Manchester United 1 – September 1, 1990

Gary Owers – who joined the club as an apprentice 32 years ago this week – hit his first top-flight Sunderland goal in a memorable Roker Park victory against star-studded Manchester United.

Gary Bennett ensured a night of wild celebration on Wearside by snatching an unforgettable, last-gasp winner, but Owers was outstanding in a fine triumph.

Gary Owers lets fly with a shot in Sunderland's win over Manchester United in 1990.

Gary Owers lets fly with a shot in Sunderland's win over Manchester United in 1990.

Buoyed by an impressive midweek display in holding Tottenham to a draw in their first home game back in Division One after a five-year absence, Denis Smith’s men fully deserved their 2-1 Roker success.

Young midfielder Owers deservedly gave Sunderland a 23rd-minute lead, only for it to be cancelled out by Brian McClair.

Victory capped a great day for chairman Bob Murray, whose wife, Sue, gave birth to a baby boy on the morning of the match.

Sunderland, roared on by a 26,105 crowd in the late summer sunshine, pounded the visitors’ goal in the opening stages, and United finally fell midway through the first half.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Left-back Paul Hardyman robbed visiting centre-back Gary Pallister and he fed striker Peter Davenport down the flank. Davenport sent over a cross from the left and though Owers failed to connect properly with his first attempt at a shot, keeper Les Sealey could only push the ball up in the air and the determined midfielder got there first to head just inside the upright.

Owers, a lively presence throughout in a performance which had boss Smith urging England Under-21 recognition for the Birtley boy, said of the goal: “I just got a touch to Peter Davenport’s centre and I thought I would get clattered when I went for the ball again.

“But the goalkeeper stayed on his line and gave me the chance to head past him.”

Marco Gabbiadini served notice of his pace, giving United’s defenders a shock to the system – hitting the post in the fourth minute after cleverly beating Steve Bruce.

Later, he had an effort cleared off the line.

Owers, though, went closest to doubling the lead with a ferocious strike which hit Mal Donaghy full in the face, with a grateful Sealey quick to beat out the rebound.

United were rallied by Paul Ince and Neil Webb’s promptings in midfield, but they only began to find top gear following the second-half arrivals of subs Mark Robins and Russell Beardsmore.

Beardsmore was an instant hit, heading a Clayton Blackmore cross back across goal for McClair to nod past a helpless Tony Norman.

Though Paul Bracewell and Gabbiadini failed to see out the match, Sunderland regained their earlier vigour to finish with a flourish – and a goal still talked about today.

Kevin Ball fired an effort against the base of Sealey’s post in the 89th minute, and United looked to be riding their luck to a point.

But up stepped Bennett to send them home pointless.

He received a pass from Reuben Agboola, calmly lobbed the ball over Pallister and angled a delicious drive into the bottom corner of the net to send Roker wild.

Boss Smith had only managed to strengthen his side with the acquisitions of Davenport and Portsmouth centre-half Ball, but the storming triumph against the FA Cup holders gave the manager hope of top-flight survival.

He said: “Three games don’t make a season, but we could have had nine points out of nine. If we carry on like that, we’ll be OK.”

Sadly, Smith was to be proved wrong.

Sunderland – with a team barely changed from their Third Division title success in 1987/88 – rose to ninth place by beating United, but their lack of strength told and they were 18th by November, never rising above 16th after that, before going down with Derby on the final day of the campaign.

Sunderland: Norman, Kay, Agboola, Bracewell (Brady 75), Bennett, Ball, Owers, Hardyman, Davenport, Gabbiadini (Hauser 83), Armstrong

Manchester Utd: Sealey, Irwin, Donaghy (Beardsmore 67), Bruce, Phelan, Pallister, Webb, Ince, McClair, Hughes (Robins 62), Blackmore

Att: 26,105