Ha’Way Back When: How Sunderland’s start under Jack Ross compares to the Class of ‘88

Eric Gates, Paul Lemon, Steve Smelt, Denis Smith, John MacPhail.
Eric Gates, Paul Lemon, Steve Smelt, Denis Smith, John MacPhail.
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For Sunderland’s younger fans, last season’s relegation to League One was a step into the unknown.

Prior to the start of this campaign, the Black Cats hadn’t competed in the third tier since the 1987/88 season, when Denis Smith’s side won the division with 93 points.

SAFC coverage in association with John Hogg.

SAFC coverage in association with John Hogg.

Smith’s team finished top of the league by nine points, ahead of second-place Brighton, as they bounced back at the first attempt.

But how does Sunderland’s promotion-winning season compare to this campaign?

After 15 games this term, Jack Ross’ side sit third in League One, after recording nine wins, five draws and one defeat.

The Black Cats have scored 30 goals and conceded 13 so far this season, and do have a game in hand on Portsmouth and Peterborough above them.

We’ve wound the clock back 31 years to see how Smith’s side were faring at this stage of the season, and how their season panned out:

Sunderland had just been relegated to the third tier for the first time in the club’s history when Smith took charge in May 1987.

The Black Cats made a decent start, winning three of their first four league games, and were 1-0 up against Bristol Rovers before conceding with nine minutes to go.

A 4-1 victory over Mansfield on August 31, courtesy of two John MacPhail penalties and goals from Gordon Armstrong and Paul Atkinson, saw Smith’s side climb to the top of the table for the first time that season.

Sunderland remained top despite a Keith Bertschin brace in a 2-2 draw at Walsall, however the result was the start of a barren five-game winless run.

The Black Cats let a one-goal lead slip in a 1-1 draw at home to Bury, before being held to goalless stalemate at Gillingham.

Sunderland then lost their first game of the campaign, going down 3-1 away at Brighton, which was immediately followed by a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Chester.

Those results saw the Wearsiders plummet to 12th in the table, with 13 points from nine games.

Yet, Smith’s side went on to win their next six league fixtures, starting with a 2-0 home win over Fulham, thanks to a Marco Gabbiadini double.

The striker scored two more in a 3-1 win over Aldershot, and added another two as Sunderland swept past Wigan 4-1.

Wins over Blackpool and Bristol City, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively, lifted Sunderland back to the top of the table, before a resounding 4-2 home win over York took them to the 15-game mark.

Following that victory on October 24, 1987, Sunderland had 31 points after 15 games, with 28 goals and 14 conceded.

The Black Cats remained in the top two for the remainder of the season and only dropped down to second for a brief spell in March.

They finished the season with 93 points, winning a total of 27 games, drawing 12 and losing seven.