Ha’way Back When: Sunderland’s super starter in the Swindon sunshine

Sunderland goalscorer Eric Gates gets in a shot at Swindon under pressure from the home defence.
Sunderland goalscorer Eric Gates gets in a shot at Swindon under pressure from the home defence.
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Swindon Town 0 Sunderland 2 – August 19, 1989

As Black Cats fans look ahead to the start of the Championship season at the beginning of August, we look back on an opening-day Sunderland second-tier triumph which led to eventual promotion, back in 1989-90.

Sunderland defied the odds to open the new campaign with a superb victory in the West Country.

Eric Gates chests the ball down at Swindon in 1989 as John Cornwell looks on.

Eric Gates chests the ball down at Swindon in 1989 as John Cornwell looks on.

They were hammered on their visit to the County Ground the previous season.

And they were hardly expected to turn the tables on a Swindon side who had reached the play-offsn.

But the Rokermen overcame the loss of captain Gary Bennett through injury after only half an hour.

And though their cause was helped by the dismissal of teenage winger Fitzroy Simpson, there was no doubting Sunderland’s superiority.

Marco Gabbiadini rides a challenge from Swindon skipper Colin Calderwood.

Marco Gabbiadini rides a challenge from Swindon skipper Colin Calderwood.

Simpson, booked in the 44th minute for mouthing to a linesman, failed to learn his lesson.

A minute after the break, he again disputed Tony Ward’s decision and the no-nonsense referee reduced the home side to 10 men.

Sunderland at first failed to make the most of their numerical advantage.

In fact, they had goalkeeper Tony Norman to thank for protecting their 17th-minute lead.

Midfielder Gordon Armstrong races to deliver a cross from the left wing at Swindon in 1989.

Midfielder Gordon Armstrong races to deliver a cross from the left wing at Swindon in 1989.

The Welsh international made tremendous saves from Alan McLoughlin and Phil King in the first half.

And he frustrated the Swindon supporters by blocking close-range efforts from Duncan Shearer and McLoughlin again when an equaliser looked a formality.

Gradually, Sunderland exploited the gaps in the home defence and, with better finishing, could have totally embarrassed Ossie Ardiles on his managerial debut.

The Argentinian star, appointed to succeed Lou Macari, introduced himself to the action in a double 51st-minute substitution, along with former Newcastle player John Cornwell.

Sunderland stormed ahead with a superbly executed goal by Eric Gates.

And they weathered a Swindon mini revival to step up the pace and secure the points with another cracking goal.

Young substitute Warren Hawke met a left-wing centre from Gordon Armstrong to hit a crisp volley into the corner of the net, leaving goalkeeper Fraser Digby helpless.

“I enjoyed my first senior goal for the club,” said a delighted Hawke.

“I just might be celebrating tonight.

“When the ball came over, I just hit it.

“That’s the first time I’ve played wide on the right for a long time.”

The loss of Bennett temporarily disrupted Sunderland’s early composure.

But with Reuben Agboola a more than capable replacement in the heart of the defence, the side soon settled again to record an impressive win.

“The substitution robbed me of two key players because I was forced to move Gary Owers out of midield,” explained manager Denis Smith.

“We stopped playing for a while after Gary Bennett limped off and Tony Norman proved what a class goalkeeper he is with some crucial saves.

“But, in the end, we could have won more comfortably.”

The Roker chief refused to discuss the sending off or the other five bookings (four for dissent).

Ardiles, however, was still locked in the referee’s dressing room when the Sunderland party headed home.

John MacPhail was the only Sunderland player booked.

The ex-York and Dundee centre-back lost a boot and, while physio Steve Smelt was attending to the injured Bennett, he initially refused to leave the pitch. He was followed to the touchline and cautioned.

Swindon had Galvin, White (foul), Shearer and Ardiles booked.

Swindon Town: Digby, Hockaday, King, McLoughlin, Parkin (Cornwell 51), Calderwood, Galvin (Ardiles 51), Shearer, White, MacLaren, Simpson

Sunderland: Norman, Agboola, Hardyman, Bennett (Cornforth 31), MacPhail, Owers, Cullen (Hawke 71), Armstrong, Gates, Gabbiadini, Pascoe

Att: 10,199