Sunderland 1 Fulham 1, September 16, 1978: Jimmy Adamson hailed super sub Alan Brown after finally getting his first Sunderland goal – almost two years on from his debut.
Brown pounced for a valuable equaliser as the Rokermen came from behind to draw with Fulham, giving manager Adamson an opportunity to praise the lively youngster who had been suffering from a crisis of confidence.
Brown was unlucky in his debut Sunderland campaign in 1976/77, desperately close to scoring but failing to get off the mark in the First Division relegation season.
The following campaign almost passed him by, with just a handful of appearances.
But the teenager certainly looked the part after coming on for Mick Buckley as a half-time sub in the Second Division showdown with Fulham.
The “Easington Express” created chances for Roy Greenwood and Wayne Entwistle as his introduction sparked Sunderland into life, before scoring the equaliser, sliding in feet first to push the ball under diving keeper Gerry Peyton after Gary Rowell nodded down an accurate Tim Gilbert cross.
Adamson told the Echo: “That goal could be a turning point in the boy’s career.
“In the First Division, he must have hit the bar at least five times.
“He is a grand lad to work with and now that he has broken the ice, his confidence will be increased.
“He really deserves it after the way he battled for the goal.” Yet Brown only got his chance when Mick Buckley – three games into an impressive start with Sunderland following a £60,000 switch from Everton – was forced off at halftime with a broken jaw, ruling him out for more than a month.
Brown was an instant hit on a blowy day at Roker Park, after a completely forgettable first 45 minutes.
In his first action, he exchanged a one-two with Greenwood before the latter shot weakly, straight at Peyton.
Shaun Elliott then had a powerful header finger-tipped off the line by Peyton from Gilbert’s corner – won by Brown – with Evans completing a desperate clearance as Sunderland looked to pounce on the loose ball.
But Fulham broke to make the breakthrough on 59 minutes, Joe Bolton conceding a penalty for his challenge on Gordon Davies.
John Margerrison sent Barry Siddall the wrong way from the spot, sidefooting home to the keeper’s left.
The Wearsiders, though, were back on terms within six minutes as Brown struck to win huge acclaim from his team-mates and a delighted crowd.
Sunderland regained the initiative and laid siege to the Londoners’ goal, with Rowell and Brown tormenting the defence, but the closest they went to a winner was when Fulham defender Evans headed narrowly wide of his own goal in attempting to clear an Elliott cross.
Argus wrote in the Echo: “If Sunderland had managed to win, then it would have had to be admitted that Brown’s influence had made all the difference.
“If there had been any justice at all, Brown would have opened his scoring account against the top First Division defences as a 17-year-old two years ago.
“He failed to do so, however, and his confidence was drained to the point that his game suffered enormously.
“But (against Fulham) he gained his due reward and could now win back the confidence to go on and fulfil himself.”
Brown went on to hit five more goals that season, including the clincher in a 3-2 win over Millwall in October.
He also struck four times in the final seven games – with Sunderland now under caretaker Billy Elliott – netting in wins against Notts County, Leicester, Sheffield United and Wrexham.
In all, Brown hit 25 goals for Sunderland in 96 starts and 28 substitute appearances.
SUNDERLAND: Siddall, Henderson, Bolton, Docherty, Clarke, Elliott, Buckley (Brown HT), Greenwood, Entwistle, Gilbert, Rowell.
FULHAM: Peyton, Evans, Strong, Lock, Money, Gale, Bullivant, Davies, Mahoney, Margerrison, Evanson. Sub: Greenaway.
Ref: Keith Hackett (Sheffield)