Ha’way Back When: Magician Marco revels in ‘best’ Sunderland goal to sink high-flying Blackburn

Marco Gabbiadinin gets in a header against Blackburn in 1988
Marco Gabbiadinin gets in a header against Blackburn in 1988
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Sunderland 2 Blackburn Rovers 0 – October 25, 1988

Marco Gabbiadini hailed his “best” Sunderland goal after inspiring a tremendous Second Division win over table-topping Blackburn Rovers.

The England Under-20 striker was the jet-heeled inspiration for the Rokermen as Blackburn were sent crashing to only their second defeat in 11 games – and toppled from pole position in the process.

Colin Pascoe misses out in Sunderland's Roker clash with Blackburn in 1988

Colin Pascoe misses out in Sunderland's Roker clash with Blackburn in 1988

Sunderland were fired up from the first whistle, giving Rovers no time to settle, and a powerful opening burst brought early reward, with Gabbiadini needing just four minutes to make the breakthrough.

Gabbiadini took a return pass from midfielder Colin Pascoe and left John Millar trailing in his wake as he stormed into the penalty area and beat Tony Gennoe with a blistering, low, angled drive.

Gabbiadini told the Echo: “I know people are saying the goal I scored in the cup-tie at West Ham was a bit special, but I just hit the ball and the goalkeeper didn’t seem to move.

“But last night’s goal was very similar to the one I got in the last minute of the match at Fulham last season and gave me more pleasure.

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

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

“I took the ball past the full-back and when I saw the goalkeeper move, I placed it across him and into the net.”

Fresh from a 4-0 weekend destruction of Swindon, Denis Smith’s men showed bags of confidence, for arguably the first time since returning to Division Two as champions. Only 12 minutes had elapsed before Sunderland set the seal on the game with what proved to be a killer second goal.

John MacPhail took advantage of a slip by former Roker striker Howard Gayle to release Billy Whitehurst on the left.

The big forward’s low centre looked like causing problems for Blackburn and it duly did, striking the unlucky Colin Hendry and flying into the net off the upright.

It was pulsating stuff, with Gennoe working overtime to keep a rampant home side at bay, denying MacPhail’s powerful header and a fierce Gordon Armstrong shot.

Blackburn rallied on the restart, but Iain Hesford survived unscathed and only the woodwork denied Sunderland a deserved third goal on 68 minutes, when Whitehurst nodded down Frank Gray’s left-wing corner and Pascoe’s near-post flick hit the post and went wide.

Victory extended the Wearsiders’ unbeaten home record to seven – four wins and three draws – and Gabbiadini was delighted.

“The lads are brimming with confidence,” said the eight-goal ex-York striker.

“The two results of the last few days have been coming for a few games now.

“We didn’t play particularly well in the second half, but then we didn’t need to.

“It makes a difference when we’re not chasing the game – that was up to Blackburn.”

Boss Smith was thrilled for his star striker, hailing the opening goal: “It was a super goal – a typical Marco effort which few other players can do.

“I have never had any doubts that Marco would score goals at a higher level.

“He will get goals in the First Division, or any level that he plays at.

“Although he got two goals against Swindon, I was more pleased with his performance (against Blackburn) – he never stopped working.”

Sunderland: Hesford, Gray, Agboola, Ord, MacPhail, Doyle, Owers, Armstrong, Gabbiadini, Whitehurst, Pascoe. Subs: Gates, Bennett..

Blackburn Rovers: Gennoe, Atkins, Millar, Ainscow (Dawson), Hendry, Mail, Miller (Curry), Reid, Gayle, Garner, Sellars

Att: 16,601.