Ha’way Back When: Marco the hero as Sunderland boss Denis Smith relishes beating Brian Clough’s Forest

Sunderland striker Peter Davenport rides a challenge from Forest's Steve Chettle at Roker Park in 1991. Picture by Kevin Brady
Sunderland striker Peter Davenport rides a challenge from Forest's Steve Chettle at Roker Park in 1991. Picture by Kevin Brady
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Sunderland 1 Nottingham Forest 0 – February 16, 1991

Marco Gabbiadini’s first goal in almost three months earned Sunderland two crucial points in the fight to beat the drop in the First Division.

A third successive 1-0 home success for Denis Smith’s men lifted the Rokermen to fifth-bottom spot, five points clear of the drop zone.

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

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

It was an absorbing contest, too, with Sunderland producing a tremendous all-round display, attacking well and restricting Brian Clough’s side to just one real chance.

Gabbiadini looked to have found a new lease of life in an injury-plagued season, giving problems throughout to England defenders Des Walker and Stuart Pearce.

He provided the winner six minutes before the break, after Gordon Armstrong was denied the opening goal by a smart Mark Crossley save, after drilling a Paul Bracewell cross low and hard goalwards.

From the resulting corner, taken by Colin Pascoe, man of the match Kevin Ball headed back for Gabbiadini to nod home from close range for his ninth goal of the campaign.

Smith was pleased with the partnership of Gabbiadini and Peter Davenport up front, saying: “They both did well, but Dav isn’t getting enough shots at goal and I still think there’s more to come from Marco.

“It’s never easy coming back after injury, but they are starting to look like their old selves again and that has to be good.”

He added: “That victory puts the pressure on everybody else. I’d rather have the points in the bag than games in hand.”

Debutant Brian Mooney, signed from Preston in a £225,000 deal, had some nice touches in linking up well with Bracewell and Gary Owers, but boss Smith said: “He showed good movement and good appreciation of things going on around him.”

The manager’s decision to choose youngster Anthony Smith at left-back ahead of the more experienced Reuben Agboola, in place of the suspended Paul Hardyman, also paid dividends, with the home-grown starlet proving more than a match for Phil Starbuck and sub Gary Crosby down the Forest right.

Forest were surprisingly lethargic in the first half and home keeper Tony Norman had his quietest match for months, though he still earned his win bonus with a magniicent reflex save to deny Starbuck’s powerful, low drive three minutes into the second half.

Boss Smith added: “It’s a great thrill to beat any side that Brian Clough manages.

“He has been the best manager in the league for the last couple of decades.

“Their passing is a joy to watch – they do the simple things so well and just keep playing football.”

Clough, a former Sunderland hero in his playing days, showed his feeling for supporters kept the Forest team coach waiting for an hour to depart as he pleased the hordes of autograph hunters by signing every last one.

Sunderland: Norman, Owers, Smith, Bennett, Ball, Mooney, Bracewell, Armstrong, Davenport, Gabbiadini, Pascoe. Subs: Kay, Atkinson

Nottingham Forest: Crossley, Laws, Pearce, Walker, Chettle, Gaynor (Hodge 77), Starbuck (Crosby 65), Wilson, Clough, Keane, Parker

Att: 20,394.