Nostalgia Blues: Wark and Gates spare Ipswich Town’s blushes against Sunderland

Eric Gates

Eric Gates - Credit: Archant

Just over 24,000 mainly expectant fans arrived at Portman Road to watch the UEFA Cup winners take on an unfancied Sunderland side, 34 years ago today.

John Wark celebrates against Sunderland

John Wark celebrates against Sunderland - Credit: Archant

The opening game of the season was only expected to have one outcome, the Blues being too strong for a depleted Roker Park team, who were still minus three players that were still in America.

But Sunderland, who had reportedly failed with a £100,000 compensation bid to lure Town boss Bobby Robson to Roker Park in the summer, didn’t read the script and in the grand scheme of things, when the final table was published the following May, a 3-3 draw earned the visitors a point that helped them avoid the drop by just two points, from Leeds.

As for Town, they ultimately finished second and missed out on the league title by four points to Liverpool – a sluggish start to the campaign, which also included a draw at Birmingham in their next game, potentially costing them dear.

The visitors, with 3,000 fans cheering them on, went for Ipswich and showed no fear and, by the 53rd minute, a shock was on the cards after Mick Buckley had added to Tom Ritchie’s opener.

However, John Wark wasn’t named the PFA Player of the Year for nothing the previous May and the Scottish international got the hosts back into the game, nodding home Arnold Muhren’s cross.

Buckley then had two more chances to score for Sunderland and he made no mistake with one of them, finishing coolly after a neat back heel flick by substitute Ally McCoist. Town looked poor, despite some good build-up play at times but were given hope almost from the re-start when Eric Gates, who would later go on to enjoy a successful spell with Sunderland, pounced on a loose ball to fire home.

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Gates then rescued a point for Robson’s side after a flick-on from Wark.

Town: Cooper, Mills, McCall, Thijssen, Isman, Butcher, Wark, Muhrenm, Mariner, Brazil, Gates. Sub: O’Callaghan

Sunderland: Turner, Hinalgan, Munro, Buckley, Clarke, Hindmarch, Chisholm, Ritchie, Brown (McCoist), Rowell, Pickering.

Other notable games on this day

A Jon Walters goal on the stroke of half-time earned Ipswich Town a point at home to Preston on August 29, 2009, cancelling out Ross Wallace’s early opener for the Lilywhites.

Seven years earlier, after a 1-0 win in the first leg in Luxembourg, Town recorded a comfortable 8-1 win in the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie against Avenir Beggen, at Portman Road, Wayne Brown among the scorers.

Sunderland were the visitors again on this day in 1998, the north-east team leaving Suffolk with a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from John Mullin and Kevin Phillips.

Eleven years earlier, Stoke City were the visitors to Portman Road and left empty-handed, David Lowe and a Chris Hemming own-goal handing Town the points.

In 1979, Town lost the first leg of their League Cup tie at home to Coventry City, eventually going out after the second leg finished goalless at Highfield Road.

Town travelled to Bramall Lane seven years earlier, drawing 0-0 at Sheffield United, having lost 1-0 at Southampton at the turn of the decade.

Ray Crawford scored for the Blues in a home draw with Blackpool in 1967, while Joe Broadfoot scored a consolation at home to Preston three years earlier, the Lancashire side emerging 5-1 winners.

The Division One title-winning season of 1961-62 saw Town record their first victory of the campaign on this day, following two defeats to start with.

The Blues had already lost 4-2 at home to Manchester City, a result which followed an opening day 4-3 defeat at Burnley.

A quick turnaround then saw the Clarets visit Portman Road, and the Blues got their revenge, winning 6-2 thanks to two goals from Crawford and further strikes from Ted Phillips, Jimmy Leadbetter, Roy Stephenson and Doug Moran.

Ipswich’s first-ever fixture on this day saw Tom Garneys and Allenby Driver (2) give them a 3-0 home win over Millwall, in 1951.

Two years later, the same opposition lost 2-1 at home to the Blues.

Leadbetter meanwhile, scored in 1956 as Ipswich beat Bournemouth 1-0 at home, , before Phillips got on the scoresheet in a 4-1 defeat at Leyton Orient in 1959.

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