Sunderland 4 Fulham 2 – April 5, 1986
Sunderland stopped the rot in emphatic fashion – only to give themselves a scare in the closing stages against Fulham.
After nine matches without a win – five draws and four defeats – Lawrie McMenemy’s men finally secured a morale-boosting win, in a Roker Park six-pointer against their Second Division relegation rivals.
For an hour, Sunderland ran Fulham ragged and, for the first time all season, they actually looked as though they were enjoying themselves.
Gone was all the tension that had been the trademark of their play which had taken them to the brink of the Third Division.
Oozing with conidence from the boost of a goal from Shaun Elliott after 73 seconds, Sunderland romped into a four-goal lead and looked a safe bet for several more.
But when bottom-of-the-table Fulham pulled one back after 60 minutes and reduced the deficit further 11 minutes later, the pattern changed dramatically.
Sunderland lost their composure, rhythm and all sense of purpose and had they conceded another goal a first double of the season would have been in serious jeopardy.
“If the match had finished after an hour we would have all been delighted,” said Sunderland manager Lawrie McMenemy, whose side remained in 19th place despite the welcome win.
“We should have scored double figures, but in football that never happens.
“Instead of being delighted we came off annoyed.
“I would have been delighted with 4-2 before the game, but that old lack of conidence crept in after an hour.
“If we had started the season like that, the rest of the clubs in the league would have been frightened to come here.
“But the way we started every team thought they had a chance.
“We have to learn by our mistakes – they should have been buried.”
It is not often that the opposing manager was in agreement, but Ray Harford, who accepts that relegation for his side was inevitable, certainly was.
“During the first half, I thought it might be 10 by the finish, we were that bad,” said Harford, whose side slipped 11 points adrift of a safety place.
Skipper Elliott started the goal rush from a Steve Hetzke knockdown from a Gordon Armstrong corner, and by the interval Mark Proctor and Ian Wallace had also beaten Gerry Peyton.
Proctor, back to his best with several astute passes, scrambled the ball home in 23 minutes, but Wallace’s 38th-minute effort was the hallmark of a natural goalscorer.
Proctor made it four six minutes into the second half with a thundering drive and the best win in years was there for the taking.
But Cliff Carr struck the base of the upright and from the rebound Dean Coney reduced the deficit.
Fulham struck again and with Kenny Achampong shaking off Elliott to set up Glen Burvill, who made no mistake from close range.
Dale White came on six minutes from time for Wallace and the youngster almost made it a dream home debut with his first touch.
The best chance, however, fell to Howard Gayle, whose effort rebounded to Tony Ford and the on-loan winger’s effort was blocked.
Sunderland: Dibble, Venison, Kennedy, Armstrong, Hetzke, Elliott, Ford, Gayle, Wallace (White), Gray, Proctor
Fulham: Peyton, Cottington, Carr, Dreyer, Marshall, Gore (Donellen), Burvill, Achampong, Coney, Pike, Barnett
Ref: Michael Peck (Kendal). Att: 11,338