Ha’way Back When: John Mullin’s magic moment in memorable Roker triumph against Manchester United

John Mullin slams home Sunderland's crucial second goal in the 1997 victory over Manchester United at Roker Park
John Mullin slams home Sunderland's crucial second goal in the 1997 victory over Manchester United at Roker Park
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Sunderland 2 Manchester United 1 – March 8, 1997

John Mullin enjoyed his greatest day in red and white, clinching a memorable 2-1 Premier League victory over Manchester United in the Roker Park sun.

The 21-year-old striker was on cloud nine after beating Peter Schmeichel for Sunderland’s winner, his first top-flight goal for the Wearsiders.

Michael Gray beats Peter Schmeichel to put Sunderland in front

Michael Gray beats Peter Schmeichel to put Sunderland in front

The Burnley-born forward had endured tough times since breaking into the team two months earlier, but Peter Reid’s faith paid off as Mullin produced an all-action rumbustious display to unsettle the visitors.

After bagging the winner, an ecstatic Mullin told the Echo that he dedicated the goal to the fans, adding: “I saw them going crackers after I scored – but then so was I.

“I’m just so pleased – for myself, for them and for everyone at the club.

“I saw the ball go in – it was a split-second thing – a great adrenaline rush and just a great feeling.”

Michael Gray celebrates his opener with striker Michael Bridges

Michael Gray celebrates his opener with striker Michael Bridges

Sunderland’s stunning success came days after alarm bells rang out for the Rokermen, following a 4-0 midweek thumping by Tottenham.

Against Alex Ferguson’s star-studded United side, who were fresh from a brilliant 4-0 Champions League success against Porto, the turnaround was incredible, a display full of passion and pride to hearten the fans.

Sunderland were 4/1 to win, but the three points were deserved, lifting spirits after four successive defeats without scoring a single goal.

Paul Bracewell and Kevin Ball played pivotal roles in midfield, snuffing out the threats from Karel Poborsky and David Beckham, while Mullin worked tirelessly up front alongside Michael Bridges, whose invention, speed and immaculate first touch caused constant problems and rightly earned the man-of-the-match award.

Sunderland right-back Gareth Hall takes on Phil Neville

Sunderland right-back Gareth Hall takes on Phil Neville

But Echo writer Graeme Anderson added: “Perhaps the most influential player on the park was Richard Ord, who played with a fury and intensity which suggested Sunderland would never be beaten.”

Michael Gray hit the opener on 52 minutes, pouncing on a mistake by Schmeichel, who could only parry a Gareth Hall cross under pressure from Ball, and sidefooting home.

It was 2-0 on 76 minutes as Mullin chased a long ball out of defence, battling shoulder to shoulder with David May and eventually slotting the ball under Schmeichel.

United threatened a comeback when Andy Melville mis-hit a Beckham free-kick past helpless keeper Lionel Perez for an own-goal.

Kevin Ball moves in to deny United's David Beckham

Kevin Ball moves in to deny United's David Beckham

But Reid’s men withstood the visitors’ late pressure and surved five minutes of added time, with Melville making amends with a crucial tackle on Eric Cantona and Andy Cole firing their last chance wide, sparking scenes of wild celebration.

Reid beamed: “It was an excellent performance. I put Mullin and Bridges up front and they did particularly well. Mullin’s a strong boy who’s getting stronger and he deserved his goal.”

Victory took Sunderland seven points clear of the drop zone, but the Red and Whites suffered an agonising relegation on the final day of the season.

Sunderland: Perez, Hall, Kubicki, Ball, Bracewell (Williams 84), Ord, Melville, Kelly, Gray, Mullin, Bridges (Russell 74)

Manchester Utd: Schmeichel, G Neville, Irwin, May, Johnsen, P Neville, Beckham, Poborsky (Solskjaer 55), McClair, Cantona, Cruyff (Cole 55)

Att: 22,225