Ha’way Back When: Veteran Pop Robson the last-day hero to inspire Sunderland survival

Pop Robson dives to get in a header for Sunderland in a vital 2-1 win over Birmingham in the late-season fight for top-flight survival in 1983-84.
Pop Robson dives to get in a header for Sunderland in a vital 2-1 win over Birmingham in the late-season fight for top-flight survival in 1983-84.
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Leicester City 0 Sunderland 2 – May 12, 1984

Veteran striker Pop Robson came up trumps as Sunderland guaranteed First Division survival with a last-day victory at Leicester.

Lee Chapman made the breakthrough in what proved to be his final match for the Rokermen, with Robson adding the second as he, too, bowed out of Sunderland for the third and final time.

Boss Len Ashurst went into the game with the threat of relegation hanging over the club – four clubs could overtake Sunderland in the battle to avoid the third relegation place – but an impressive performance, inspired by skipper Ian Atkins at the back, saw off Leicester and, incredibly, lifted the Wearsiders to 13th-place – the best finish for 26 years.

They ended up four points clear of Birmingham, who dropped into Division Two after a 0-0 draw with Southampton as Coventry beat Norwich 2-1 to escape.

The results meant Sunderland would have survived even with a defeat at Filbert Street.

Ashurst said: “It was the sort of performance I have been working for, but has been lacking in the last eight weeks.

“The two centre-forwards did well in holding things up.

“When the second goal went in, I knew that Leicester needed three for us to be in trouble, but they missed a couple of good chances in the second half.”

Recalled Chapman bagged his fourth goal of the season – all away from home – to give Sunderland the perfect start in just the eighth minute.

Chris Turner’s long, wind-assisted clearance was headed on by Colin West and Chapman went on to confidently beat rookie goalkeeper Ian Andrews.

Twice, Leicester’s goal led a charmed life as Sunderland held sway.

Chapman sent a 25-yarder just over the bar after another West nod-down, with Andrews well off his line and hopelessly beaten.

Then Leicester’s ex-Hibs man Bobby Smith, under no pressure at right-back, almost beat Andrews with a badly directed back pass, the young keeper recovering by diving to his left to keep the ball out.

Sunderland finally doubled their lead with player-coach Robson poaching the 302nd goal of his prolific career in the 41st minute.

Mark Proctor sent in a corner to Chapman, whose far-post header was cleared off the line by Steve Lynex, but only as far as Robson, who drove home from eight yards.

Rob Kelly and Paul Ramsey went close for Leicester in the second period, but Gary Lineker could make no inroads on the Sunderland defence, well led by Atkins, behind a hard-working midfield featuring man of the match Paul Bracewell.

Bracewell – a hit in his first season on Wearside but attracting a £250,000 bid from Everton – even had the chance to cap a tremendous display with a rare goal, when sent clear by Proctor’s astute pass, but he shot wide under pressure.

Chapman, signed by former boss Alan Durban from Arsenal for £100,000 five months earlier, only got his chance with Ashurst unwilling to gamble on Leighton James, and he said: “I’m sure the boss still wants to sell me.

“It was great to come back and score, but I can’t see that making much difference.”

Ashurst stunned fans two days after the game by releasing Gary Rowell and James, and he said: “We need a fresh outlook after striving for success over the last four years.

“It is not about cash, but who is hungry enough and who wants to play for the club.

“I have 12 months to prove I am the right man for this club and what I want is honesty.

“Although I have the nucleus of a side here, I feel there are two or three dissidents in the camp.”

James insisted he could have played at Leicester, telling the Echo: “I wanted to play, but the manager was frightened I turned in a match-winning performance and he’d have to offer me a new contract.”

Leicester City: Andrews, B Smith, Wilson, Kelly, Williams, Rennie, Lynex, Lineker (Feeley 50), A Smith, Ramsey, English

Sunderland: Turner, Venison, Pickering, Atkins, Chisholm, Elliott, Bracewell, Robson, West, Proctor, Chapman. Sub: Atkinson

Att: 12,627