Ha’Way Back When: How Sunderland fared last time they were in the first round of the FA Cup

Sunderland v Darlington in the first round of the FA Cup
Sunderland v Darlington in the first round of the FA Cup
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Confidence, character and a touch of luxury all combined in effective fashion the last time Sunderland entered the FA Cup at the first round stage.

The Black Cats have grown accustomed to entering the famous competition at the third round stage, but back-to-back relegations mean an earlier introduction into the tournament this year.

Jack Ross’ side will compete in the first round proper for the first time since 1987 when they travel to League Two Port Vale this Sunday for the televised 2.30pm kick-off.

And Ross will be hoping their fortunes match that of the Sunderland side who took to the field over three decades ago.

Although the Scot will no doubt be hoping his side can enjoy a more prolonged cup run than their predecessors.

Managed by Denis Smith, a side packed full of memorable names faced Darlington on November 14, 1987 in the Wearsiders’ only first round tie in modern times.

Gordon Armstrong, Marco Gabbiadini and Reuben Agboola were among the Sunderland side that took to the field at Roker Park in what proved to be a fine performance from the hosts.

It was winger Paul Atkinson who proved the difference on the day, with his brace enough for a 2-0 win - although it could have been far more.

On another day, star striker Gabbiadini could have netted a hat-trick, but fluffed his lines on more than one occasion; the striker even firing wide of an open goal after rounding Darlington stopper Jeremy Roberts.

Armstrong, Gary Owers and Gates also passed up excellent opportunities as Sunderland continued to take the game to their local rivals.

But that isn’t to say it was plain sailing for the Black Cats, who had to call upon goalkeeper Iain Hesford to deny David Currie and Kevin Stonehouse.

Hesford’s fine performance earned praise from his manager, with Smith telling the Echo after the tie: “Iain’s confidence is back and that’s why he is playing so well.

“He has shown tremendous character to fight back the way he has.

“I always believed that Iain could do a job for me.”

At the other end, it was Atkinson who stole the show - the winger firing home from inside the area to open the scoring on 24 minutes.

While the first was a well-taken effort, Atkinson’s second owed plenty to lady luck.

His cross was intended for Owers, but instead bounced off the inside of the post and left Roberts helpless.

His virtuoso performance earned plenty of praise from Smith, who branded the flankster as a ‘luxury’ player post-match, before adding: “Paul is starting to feel part of the team.

“This is probably the longest run he’s had and it’s doing his confidence a world of good.

“His work-rate against Darlington was impressive, and that’s important for a winger.”

Impressive too was 17-year-old Richard Ord, who deputised for the injured Gary Bennett and helped his side to a clean sheet.

Ord would go on to become a regular fixture for the Black Cats, and his manager was enthused by his performance that day.

“He can handle it,” he said.

“He has tremendous confidence and in the three matches he has played in we have kept two clean sheets.”

The Black Cats went on to face Scunthorpe United in the second round of the competition, but lost 2-1 - signalling a disappointingly early exit from the competition.

So, while Ross will be hoping to emulate Smith’s men in some respects, he will be keen to ensure that the current Black Cats go at least one step further in the FA Cup.

How Sunderland lined-up that day: Hesford, Kay, Agboola, Ord, MacPhail, Owers, Armstrong, Doyle, Gates, Gabbiadini, Atkinson. Subs: Lemon, Gray.