Rowell Report: The day Durban got it spot on

Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
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SUNDERLAND’S trip to Anfield on Saturday is one I’m looking forward to and is always one of the highlights of the season for me.

I’ve got great memories of playing at Anfield and in the early 1980s, Liverpool were the best team in England and also dominated Europe.

Liverpool rarely lost at home in this period, so for Sunderland to win there not just once, but twice, in 81 and 83 was a great achievement and both are stand-out games during my career.

The first win is probably remembered the most, it was certainly more dramatic as it was the very last game of the season and the victory meant we avoided the drop.

The second two years later though was a better performance, where everybody in the team was at the top of their game and we had to be against the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and Alan Hansen.

Our manager Alan Durban got his team selection right and his tactics were spot-on, as we defended deep and played on the counter-attack.

Just like in our previous win there, we went ahead in the first half and during the half-time break, Durban stressed how hard and demanding the second 45 minutes were going to be. He wasn’t wrong.

Liverpool poured forward and dominated possession, but they didn’t carve out that many chacnes, while we were dangerous on the break and I saw our goalkeeper Chris Turner have many busier games than the one he did that day.

When the final whistle went, I felt we’d earned the win and shared it with our travelling fans, and we also got a great reception from the Liverpool supporters, which we didn’t expect but appreciated anyway.

I remember in the dressing room afterwards savouring our second win at Anfield in three seasons and thinking we had a good team with potential and the only way was up.

Young players like Barry Venison, Nick Pickering and Paul Bracewell would all go on to play for England, while Shaun Elliott, Chris Turner, Mark Proctor and myself had played for England at younger age levels.Ian Atkins and Leighton James were vastly experienced too.

But you never know what is around the corner in football and just a few months later, Durban was surprisingly sacked.

Sadly, instead of his team being built on, it was broken up.

Sunderland went on a downward spiral over the next few seasons, which ended in the old Third Division, but I’m convinced that never would have happened if Durban hadn’t been shown the door.