Ha’way Back When: Roker quality tells to get promotion push off to a flier as Siddall stars

Birmingham's Mark Dennis clears under pressure from Pop Robson.
Birmingham's Mark Dennis clears under pressure from Pop Robson.
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Sunderland 2 Birmingham City 0 – August 22, 1979

Sunderland turned on the style to make a winning start to their home campaign, with promotion out of Division Two the ultimate ambition for Ken Knighton’s side.

Fresh from a goalless opening day draw at Chelsea, the Rokermen came out on top in a quality clash with another of their expected promotion rivals, Birmingham City, four days later.

Alan Brown challenges Mark Dennis for a header.

Alan Brown challenges Mark Dennis for a header.

Two outstanding goals proved the difference between the sides, with Pop Robson and Alan Brown coming up trumps.

Sunderland had to work extremely hard to cope with the threat of a Birmingham side vastly improved on their relegation campaign by the summer acquisitions of Archie Gemmill and Alan Curbishley.

Barry Siddall enjoyed one of the best nights of his career in goal, with his immaculate handling and timing ensuring there was no way through for the Blues, who also found the central defensive partnership of Shaun Elliott and Jeff Clarke in top form.

Boss Knighton was fulsome in his praise for Sunderland’s goalkeeper, saying: “Barry Siddall was fabulous.

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

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

“This is the sort of game he was playing last season and he is carrying on the good work.

“There is not a better goalkeeper in the business.”

Sunderland were under the cosh right from the kick-off, with Alan Ainscow making a great break down the right and Evans heading his eventual cross just wide.

Seconds later, Ainscow volleyed narrowly wide of the target from the edge of the penalty box.

Sunderland began to get into the game, but Brown was caught offside three times in just four minutes as they struggled to ind a way through in the inal third.

But the home side finally made the breakthrough in the 30th minute, making Birmingham full-back Mark Dennis rue an error, trying to shield a misplaced through ball from Kevin Arnott out for a goal-kick.

But the determined Brown was having none of it, and his challenge at the last second won the ball.

He quickly crossed it into the middle and Robson got up to place a magniicently judged header well out of the reach of keeper Jeff Wealands and just inside the post.

Brown was close to doubling the lead before the break.

latching on to a through ball from right-back Steve Whitworth, but his ferocious strike from the edge of the box was blocked by Wealands and bounced clear.

Siddall, kept busy throughout the first half, showed his quality in the early stages of the second period.

He first made a superb save, turning a close-range Evans drive over the bar after he had been set up by Keith Bertschin.

Seconds later, Siddall got down well on the line to gather an Evans header, following a right-wing Gemmill centre.

Ex-Sunderland midielder Tony Towers gave Blues a problem with a lax back pass, with the ever-alert Brown beating Wealands to the ball and going down under a challenge from the keeper, only for the referee to wave the penalty claims away.

Brown, though, made it 2-0 on 66 minutes, racing clear on to an inch-perfect Arnott pass and shrugging off Page before driving home a left-foot strike, which gave the keeper no chance.

Arnott, from long range, and Robson were not too far away from extending the advantage, with Birmingham expertly shut out at the other end.

Knighton, impressed by his side’s display, said: “Every player is playing for his place, and that is how it is going to be.

“I could not have asked for more from anyone.”

Sunderland: Siddall, Whitworth, Bolton, Clarke, Elliott, Chisholm, Arnott, Rostron, Rowell, Robson, Brown. Sub: Lee

Birmingham City: Wealands, Page, Dennis, Curbishley, Gallagher, Towers, Ainscow, Evans, Bertschin, Gemmill, Dillon

Att: 25,877.