Sunderland 3 Arsenal 0 – December 18, 1982
It took just one look at the frost-bound Roker Park pitch to convince manager Alan Durban that Sunderland were going to end the dismal run of 10 league games without a win.
On a day when big hearts and commitment were the priorities, there was only one team in it.
After sinking Arsenal 3-0, the delighted Roker boss said: “Once I saw the pitch, I fancied we were better prepared than them.”
And that’s the way it turned out when Gary Rowell claimed his first ever hat-trick at Roker Park, to set up a victory that sent Sunderland two places up the First Division table.
Just as important, it was the boost that Sunderland needed going into their next two games against Liverpool and Manchester United.
“I am not getting carried away with one result, but I believe we have not been far out and against Arsenal the team proved how they can play with confidence,” added Durban.
“I have never seen a side so bereft of confidence, but that performance was brilliant and I think we got a bit of the rub of the green when it mattered.”
There was no luck in the manner in which Rowell took his goals – “a real hat-trick” – claimed Durban, and but for an incredible miss the club’s leading goalscorer could have finished with at least four goals.
With Sunderland leading through Rowell’s superb eighth-minute strike, after being set up by Barry Venison – “his best first 45 minutes in midfield” said Durban – Shaun Elliott surged forward to draw out keeper Pat Jennings out.
Elliott delayed his final pass inside but somehow Rowell stabbed his effort wide.
The miss could have proved costly, but, when Nick Pickering had a 62nd-minute shot pushed onto the upright by Jennings, Arsenal’s luck finally ran out.
In the next minute, visiting defender Chris Whyte could only head a Pickering left-wing cross into the path of Rowell, who swept another left-foot drive into the roof of the net from an acute angle.
The third goal was again initiated down the left when skipper Iain Munro linked with Pickering, who found Frank Worthington. A great pass from the ex-England man fed Rowell and his deadly finish sent the Roker crowd into ecstasy after 77 minutes.
“I hope it has done the side a bit of confidence,” said Rowell, who added “I was due to score.
“I have only scored one other hat-trick and that was at Newcastle.
“I am delighted to have scored three at Roker Park.”
The pleasing aspect of the performance was the overall improvement, with Pickering looking more like the man who was voted North East Player of the Year in the previous season.
Arsenal never got to grips with his penetrating runs and, with Munro overcoming a shaky start behind him, he turned in one of his best performances for the club.
Sunderland threatened almost every time they attacked down the left flank.
Durban said right-back Jimmy Nicholl looked like an international again, while Elliott and Ian Atkins were a tower of strength in central defence.
Atkins had matured with every game in the First Division, but Durban would still have prefered to have his utility signing from Shrewsbury playing in midfield, where he was likely to pop up with a crucial goal or two.
Chris Turner had not had a quieter afternoon for a long time, but he would be satisfied on his recall, making a great reflex save from Whyte from a left-wing corner, when Sunderland were only one goal ahead.
The one-touch play of Worthington and Rowell were the highlight of a bitterly cold but entertaining 90 minutes under such difficult conditions.
Sunderland: Turner, Nicholl, Munro, Atkins, Chisholm, Elliott, Venison, Rowell, Worthington, Pickering, Cummins. Sub not used: Cooke.
Arsenal: Jennings, Hollins, Sansom, Talbot, O’Leary, Whyte, Davis (Chapman 64), Sunderland, Robson, Woodcock, Rix.