So, as we continue our team of One Good and One Bad (4-4-2 formation). Sobs chose two forwards. Just confirm this is not a best and worst, it’s more of a one I liked, one who pissed me off!
The easiest position(s) to pick a hero from, I suppose, as their names are in the headlines the most, and the result of them doing their job well is that goals are scored, couldn’t be more simple. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to check the statistics and see who has the best goals per game figures. Top of the pile is Dave Halliday, with 165 goals in a mere 175 games at 0.94 goals per game, but as his last appearance for us was in 1929, probably only George Forster will remember him. If you’re getting better than a goal every other game, you’re doing bloody well, and only about 15 players in our history have achieved that.
One of them was Darren Bent, with 36 goals in 63 games at a rate of 0.57 goals per game, so he’s my choice and before you start, I’m ignoring the somewhat ignominious end to his time on Wearside. Arriving with the sort of fanfare that established strikers tend to attract in the Prem, and for a club record of an eventual £16.5 million, he instantly looked the real deal. He’d endeared himself to our fans before he arrived by taking to social media to slag off Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, for trying to stymie the deal, so when he did hold the scarf aloft at the Academy on August 5th 2009 (aye, that long ago) for the compulsory publicity photos, we were ready to welcome a new goalscoring hero. When he opened his account on his debut with the only goal against Bolton, we reckoned Bruce had brought us a player who could help maintain our position in the top flight for years to come. Only 25 years old, but already having 118 goals to his name and a proven ability to be an effective part of a front two, we were laughing. Fans of his previous clubs, Ipswich, Charlton (where his partner was Marcus Bent, the only other professional I can find who shares that surname), and Spurs waxed lyrical (especially the Ipswich fans, but only because of their accent) about Darren’s prowess in front of goal.
Initially paired with Kenwyne Jones, and making his debut alongside Catts, Lorik Cana (who made up the “destroyer” and “destroyer” central midfield) and, from the bench, his former Spurs partner Fraizer Campbell, we quickly took to him. Who wouldn’t? He was a bit flash, but he scored the goals to back it up, in short, a proper Premier League forward. That fifth minute goal was the first of four in five games, so we knew we had a player who was effective and, even that early in his Sunderland career, a potential threat to SKP’s post-war scoring record. Only a couple of months in, his shot hit that famous beach ball and Liverpool fullback Glen Johnson for the only goal of the game to earn a place in Wearside, and football, folklore. He got a hat-trick against Spurs despite missing two penalties, but had already become a fans’ favourite, as goalscorers tend to do. By the end of the season, he’d bagged 25 goals in his 40 appearances, meaning that he’d scored half of our league goal, a feat that saw him chosen as our Player of the Year. However, it wasn’t just him, with Jones getting 9 from his 36 and Campbell 7 from his 36, so that wasn’t a bad strike force. Jones was away before the next season started, and with Campbell sustaining a cruciate injury that would recur to blight his Sunderland career, Bruce bought in Danny Welbeck on loan and Asamoah Gyan for loads of money. Three flashy forwards. At Sunderland. Wow.
Things continued to go well for Bent, Hell’s Bells, he even scored for England in Switzerland, while Sunderland player, but with another 11 goals in 23 games already, he put in a transfer request after Christmas. There were rumours of off-field problems with the manager, but nothing was ever made public (officially, anyway) and we were left scratching our heads as we wondered what might have been for both player and club when Villa shelled out an eventual £24 million. A profit, at least.
After an initially successful start, his popularity at Villa waned, and he dropped through Fulham, Brighton, and Derby before fetching up at Burton Albion. Whatever it was that prompted his decision to leave us, it obviously outweighed the chance to put in another five or six seasons with us, whizz past the 100 goals mark, and get right up there in the record books. However, he was a joy to watch in the stripes, and on the basis of goals scored, and entertainment, and fans of other clubs being jealous, he’s One Good.
One bad forward. Oooh, the names I could chuck in here based on statistics. Poor old Danny Graham, with one goal in 42 games at a cost of £4 million a goal. Flo. Altidore. David Healy (bet you’d forgotten him). Rade Price. Brian Deane. OK, I’ll stop now and cut to the chase, that chase being for survival in the mid 80s.
In his eight years in the English game, Scottish international Ian Wallace had made a name for himself at Coventry and Forest as a Jock in the Box goal-poacher, prompting a glamour move to the continent. It was from French club Brest (stop it, stop it) that Len Ashurst signed him in January 1985, and with his record of having been top scorer for his English clubs six seasons out of eight, once having commanded a fee of £1.25 million, we were perfectly entitled to expect a positive contribution in our fight against relegation. He made his debut as a late substitute for Steve Berry (aye, you’d forgotten him as well) as Clive Walker’s goal saw us past Watford in the quarter final of the League (Milk) Cup, but it wasn’t long before the feelings in The Fulwell were that he wasn’t quite the radgie goal poacher that we’d expected. He was an unused sub in both legs of the semi-final against Chelsea, and when early sub Dale Jasper conceded two penalties in the home leg, Colin West stuck them both away, the second after the keeper had tipped it onto the post. Westy scored again at Stamford Bridge, waltzing past a police horse to net our third and surely guarantee a place in the side at Wembley.
Which is where Wallace came in, or rather, didn’t. At least, not so you’d notice. Ashurst preferred him to the in-form West, and, had Wallace been performing at anything like the level of his time at Forest and Coventry, we fans would perhaps have agreed with the selection. He patently wasn’t, and his seemingly disinterested form continued in the final, when the ref got more touches of the ball as we lost to Norwich. Westy quite rightly had it out with our manager and was sold to Watford, where he scored seven goals in twelve games that season as they finished eleventh. We scored five in our twelve and finished twenty first, despite being twenty-three points ahead of bottom-placed Stoke. ‘Nuff said.
Wallace hung around Roker for the next season, somehow doubling his Sunderland goal tally to six, and was booked another twice to take his yellow total to three in his 39 games. For someone with his reputation as a bit hot-headed (mebbe it was just the ginger hair) that was indicative of his general demeanour while on our books. Come to think of it, he’d have been better employed doing the books, so we let him drift away at the end of ’85-’86, and he had a handful of games in Portugal for Maritimo before going all antipodean to play for, then manage, Melbourne Croatia and Albion Turkaguta. He had a spell managing Dumbarton before vanishing off the face of the earth for a while and having some personal problems but was last heard of living happily in Clydebank. Sometimes transfers just don’t work for players or clubs, and Wallace’s to Sunderland was one.
THE STORY SO FAR
Stay Safe, Haway the Lads