On this day (January 15, 1983): Sunderland beat the European champions – again!
Alan Durban’s Sunderland started the 1982-83 season in eye-catching fashion as goals from Colin West, Ally McCoist and Nick Pickering gave them a 3-1 opening day win at Villa Park.
However, form quickly waned and after falling to the bottom of the table, it wasn’t until mid-December that the team really took off, when a hat-trick from Gary Rowell secured a win. over Arsenal and caused a series of impressive three draws against heavyweights. Manchester United, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Improved results meant that when Aston Villa arrived at Wearside at the start of the new year, they would face a re-energized Sunderland, whose confidence was growing despite injuries to key men.
Durban were without Shaun Elliott and Rowell for the game, despite what the last page of the schedule suggested, and with John Cooke also missing, Frank Worthington had to return to the starting XI despite continuing problems with his ankle.
Worthington was still fairly new to the club, but his flair and vision were proving to be invaluable assets. Against Villa he was joined by debutant Leighton James, who had signed a deal three days earlier after being transferred for free by Swansea City.
Like Worthington, James was a seasoned pro with plenty of technical ability, and the pair had a huge influence on the outcome; a James free-kick was converted into his own by Kevin McNaught to open the scoring, and early in the second half Worthington sealed the points with a safe finish past the Fulwell End.
Nigel Spink collected the ball from the net, who went on to work as a goalkeeping coach at Sunderland under Steve Bruce. His counterpart was Chris Turner, who, keeping a clean sheet, equaled a club record of six consecutive league shutouts after a fine performance.
Not only did he contribute to the second goal – it was his long punt that Colin West delivered with precision on the way to Worthington, but he also made several stunning saves.
One of those saves denied McNaught moments before Sunderland’s second goal.
If Villa had managed to equalize then, the game could have played out very differently; the visitors had several top players and although they weren’t able to match the consistency that won them the league title in 1981, they were still a very capable team – so capable, in fact, that later in the month they beat Barcelona on aggregate to win the European Super Cup.
Sunderland more than deserved victory that day, however, and while Villa boss Tony Barton singled out Turner for further praise, it was a solid all-around team they played at both ends of the pitch. .
A week before his debut, James and his wife Lynn watched from the main stand as Sunderland played out a goalless draw with Manchester City in the FA Cup – with his craftsmanship adding an extra ingredient into the mix that a young side would now had more balance and despite another poor run in the spring they were able to walk comfortably away from the relegation dogfight.
Saturday, January 15, 1983
Football League Division 1
Sunderland 2 (McNaught OG 27, Worthington 48)
Aston Villa 0
Sunderland: Turner; Nicholl, Chisholm, Atkins, Munro; Deer, Pickering, James, Cummins; Worthington (McCoist 78), West.
Roker Park, presence 16, 052