Ha’way Back When: Gary Rowell wins big praise from Frank Clark after key Sunderland victory

John Hawley (right) congratulates Gary Rowell on his opening goal against Norwich in 1981.
John Hawley (right) congratulates Gary Rowell on his opening goal against Norwich in 1981.
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Sunderland 3 Norwich City 0 – January 10, 1981

Frank Clark finally got a glimpse of Gary Rowell at his best – as Sunderland eased their First Division drop fears with a crucial win over fellow strugglers Norwich City at Roker Park.

A season’s low Roker crowd of 17,749 saw Rowell come up trumps with a brace, sandwiching a Stan Cummins strike in an ultimately comfortable success.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

It was heartening for Sunderland fans to see Rowell on fire, having struggled to recapture his goal-laden form of 1978/79 following a serious knee injury which had sapped the Seaham-born star’s confidence.

Though the double took Rowell’s tally for the season to nine, assistant manager Frank Clark told the Echo that he was delighted with the player’s touch, saying: “He has never shown it while I have been here, but I always thought he could do it.

“He now looks like a natural goalscorer and he has that touch of arrogance that all goalscorers need.

“He has worked hard all season and has impressed me with his attitude. As long as he continues to apply himself, he will score goals.”

Rowell had evolved into a role on the left of midfield, and he broke the deadlock in the 24th minute, seconds after the Canaries went close at the other end of the pitch, Phil Hoadley firing wide from a good position after keeper Chris Turner could only punch out Peter Mendham’s inswinging corner.

Sunderland broke instantly and ruthlessly made the breakthrough.

Shaun Elliott picked out the unmarked Rob Hindmarch from a free-kick and when the skipper knocked the ball across the face of goal, the alert Rowell had time and space to beat keeper Clive Baker from close range.

It was 2-0 and all but game over just eight minutes later, with Sunderland given a massive helping hand.

Hoadley’s back header to Baker, even with a strong wind behind it, was suicidal and Cummins gleefully accepted the gift, dribbling around Baker and slotting home a first goal in eight games.

Norwich were rarely good enough to threaten a comeback, though Joe Royle’s fine foraging up front deserved better support than his team-mates offered.

Sunderland duly killed off the visitors with a third goal on 67 minutes, with Kevin Arnott’s curling, left-wing corner nodded goalwards by Alan Brown.

Baker beat it out, but Rowell hooked the ball home.

The most talked-about incident came nine minutes before half-time.

Baker came out to collect an innocuous through pass and when he was challenged by Brown, the keeper inexplicably dropped the ball.

Brown, though, even more amazingly, missed the target of an empty net from just six yards.

Sunderland climbed to seventh bottom spot, but remained vulnerable, just two points clear of Norwich in the third relegation place.

Boss Ken Knighton felt his decision to retain the starting line-up from the midweek FA Cup replay defeat to Birmingham City paid off.

He added: “Conditions ruined the game as a spectacle, but we badly needed the points and I have no complaints when we score three goals and don’t concede any.

“The second goal was the most important one. That’s the one that kills off the game.”

Victory capped a good weekend for the Rokermen, with Knighton and chairman Tom Cowie patching up their differences after months of conflict.

Sunderland: Turner, Whitworth, Bolton, Hindmarch, Elliott, Rowell, Arnott, Brown, Hawley, Chisholm, Cummins. Sub: Cooke

Norwich: Baker, Symonds, Downs, McGuire, Hoadley (Bennett 66), Watson, Mendham, Fashanu, Royle, Paddon, Jack

Att: 17,749.