Retro SAFC: 1996 – Sunderland’s Christmas cracker with magnificent win over Chelsea stars

Craig Russell watches Kevin Ball's effort roll into the back of the net in Sunderland's 3-0 win over Chelsea in 1996
Craig Russell watches Kevin Ball's effort roll into the back of the net in Sunderland's 3-0 win over Chelsea in 1996
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Sunderland 3 Chelsea 0 – December 15, 1996: Christmas came early for Sunderland as a magnificent team performance proved too much for Chelsea to handle.

Peter Reid’s men produced an inspirational, gritty performance to record their first Premiership win in front of Sky’s cameras – climbing to seventh bottom spot in their first topflight campaign in six years.

Craig Russell celebrates as Kevin Ball forces home his goal against Chelsea

Craig Russell celebrates as Kevin Ball forces home his goal against Chelsea

Sunderland had heroes all over the park, no one more than Andy Melville, who enjoyed a tremendous match in central defence – just 24 hours after playing for Wales in a goalless World Cup qualifier against Turkey.

The former Oxford and Swansea star was thrilled to play his part in a memorable victory.

He told the Echo: “I really wanted to play and I’m glad I did it.

“It was a magnificent team performance – we worked really hard all over the pitch and stopped them playing.

Craig Russell celebrates his first goal in the victory over Chelsea

Craig Russell celebrates his first goal in the victory over Chelsea

“We kept it simple and closed them down, whenever they got the ball, as quickly as we could.

“We were up against players like Zola, who is a class player.

But we worked hard as a team and showed our worth.”

After riding their luck in the early stages, Sunderland never looked back after making the breakthrough with a fluke strike on the half hour.

Craig Russell challenges Chelsea's Steve Clarke

Craig Russell challenges Chelsea's Steve Clarke

Lionel Perez’s goal kick was pushed forward by David Kelly, then Alex Rae knocked the ball into the path of Craig Russell, who fired in a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was missing the target.

But the ball cannoned off the back of hapless Chelsea defender Michael Duberry and looped, agonisingly for the visitors, over the despairing dive of keeper Frode Grodas.

Sunderland all but killed off the Londoners with a brilliant second goal two minutes into the second half.

Rae’s vision fashioned the opening.

Chelsea defend desperately against an Alex Rae cross in 1996

Chelsea defend desperately against an Alex Rae cross in 1996

Taking the ball on the right of midfield, the Scot swept the ball forward to the left, where Michael Gray seized it, danced wide and fired a pinpoint cross into the box.

It was met by a stunning diving header from Kevin Ball, the midfielder flinging himself wholeheartedly at the ball to give Grodas no chance.

Chelsea were finished off by a third goal midway through the second half.

Kelly, receiving from Paul Bracewell, produced a brilliant reverse pass which wrongfooted the Blues and allowed Russell space on the left flank.

The home-grown striker advanced into the box and, with Grodas rushing out, fired a low drive under the keeper and into the corner to send the Fulwell End into ecstasy.

Russell revelled in the winning feeling, but admitted to the stroke of luck which brought Sunderland’s opener, telling the Echo’s Graeme Anderson – in his first match as Sunderland writer following Geoff Storey’s retirement after 17 years: “I thought my shot was flying into the top corner – the top corner of the stand!

“But this was a really good win for us.

We got that bit of luck we’ve been looking for, and after that it went well.”

Former Chelsea defender Gareth Hall was particularly thrilled to shoot down his former team-mates, saying: “Zola was a handful, but I think we shut him out and kept them as quiet as we could all across the pitch.”

Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley got a big kick out of the Wearsiders’ display, saying: “Ord and Melville gobbled up everything in defence and Bally was as tough as old boots in the middle of the park. He was magnificent.

“Dennis Wise is supposed to be an England player, yet Bally was in a different class.”

SUNDERLAND: Perez, Hall, Kubicki, Bracewell, Ball, Melville, Gray (Agnew 65), Ord, Russell, Rae (Bridges 81), Kelly.

Subs: Preece, Aiston, Mullin.

CHELSEA: Grodas, Gullit, Clarke, Myers (Hughes 60), Wise, Duberry, Burley (Di Matteo 45), Minto, Sinclair, Newton, Zola.

Subs: Phelan, Johnsen, Colgan.

Ref: M.Bodenham (East Looe).

Att: 19,683.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NORTH EAST

* Newcastle United slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Premier League bottomside Coventry City.

Darren Huckerby and Gary McAllister scored for the Sky Blues, with Alan Shearer scoring for the Mags.

* Middlesbrough were beaten 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield.

Robbie Fowler scored four of the five goals to put the Reds into second place in the Premier League. Stig Inge Bjornebye scored the other goal for Liverpool. Michael Thomas scored an own goal as a consolation for Boro.

* In Division Three, Hartlepool United won 3-1 at Rochdale with the goals coming from Chris Beech, Steve Howard and Joe Allon.

* Myers claimed their first point of the season in the Scorpion Lager Sunday League with a 3-3 draw against Royal Standard.

Ian Robinson, Shaun Conley and Kenny Taylor scored for Myers, but goals from David Marsh, Dean Campbell and Ian Hendry shared the spoils.

ENTERTAINING WEARSIDE

TV: Jim Davidson’s Gereration Game; Casualty; One Foot in the Garve; Birds of a Feather, Have I got News for You; Later with Jools Holland; Gladiators; Blind Date; Jo Brand through the Cake Hole; ER; Clive Anderson All Talk; Heartbeat; Tomorrow’s World; The Real holiday Show.

MUSIC: No.1 – Boyzone (A Different Beat); Others – Toni Braxton (Un-Break My Heart); The Prodigy (Breathe); Robert Miles featuring Maria Nayler (One And One); Dunblane (Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door / Throw These Guns Away); Damage (Forever); The Spice Girls (Say You’ll Be There); Peter Andre (I Feel You); The Beautiful South (Don’t Marry Her); 3T (I Need You); The Woolpackers (Hillbilly Rock Hillbilly Roll).

CINEMA: Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmations; The Santa Clause; Star Trek: The First Contact; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; The Long Kiss Goodnight; Dracula – Dead and Loving it.

NIGHTLIFE: The Steve Graham Band appeared at Castletown WMC; Grindon Broadway Social had Pulse on stage; both Ozone and Ronnie Canada and the Allstars were on stage at Steels Social Club; Deek the Juice appeared at Westlea Social Club; Run for Cover were on stage at the Ivy Leaf Social Club.