Ex-Sunderland man Hardyman on the derby red mist

Paul Hardyman
Paul Hardyman

PAUL HARDYMAN endured the stomach-churning highs and lows of a North East derby in the space of just four days.

The first leg of the 1990 promotion play-off clash with the Magpies proved to be a miserable experience for the Sunderland left-back after missing a last-gasp penalty and then being dismissed within seconds for drop-kicking Newcastle keeper John Burridge.

Yet redemption arrived for Hardyman courtesy of his team-mates after Sunderland secured one of their most famous derby victories in the second leg at St James’s Park, as CHRIS YOUNG reports.

THE TEENAGERS at Portsmouth’s academy stumbled upon a gem while browsing YouTube.

Mischievously, they entered the name of their coach into the search box and discovered the most infamous moment of Paul Hardyman’s Sunderland career waiting for them.

Their grins gradually widened as they watched Hardyman’s stoppage time penalty in the first leg of the 1990 Second Division play-off against Newcastle roll comfortably towards Magpies stopper John Burridge.

Those smirks descended into hysterics as the footage panned to Hardyman almost decapitating Burridge in his doomed attempts to convert the rebound before being promptly sent off.

Hardyman, now the under-18s coach at Pompey, joked: “Watching it back now on YouTube, I probably didn’t hit him hard enough!

“It was just one of those moments when you see it come back out and at first you don’t realise you’ve missed it.

“Then I was just committed to getting the rebound in and I thought if I could get the keeper and the ball in the back of the net, the referee might have given it.

“Then the ref added insult to injury by sending me off, which I thought was a bit harsh ...”

Now, Hardyman chuckles at the memory of that Sunday afternoon, yet it was far from funny at the time for the Sunderland left-back.

Hardyman left the Roker Park pitch in tears, both fearful that he had cost his team-mates a chance of promotion and knowing that he would have no chance to play a part in setting the record straight in the second leg.

The penalty, awarded after Marco Gabbiadini was felled by Mark Stimson, was Sunderland’s moment to get their noses in front and head to St James’s Park in buoyant mood.

Hardyman was confident of taking the opportunity. After all, he had just enjoyed what was to be the most prolific season of his career, netting seven times, four of which were spot-kicks.

Despite Gordon Armstrong’s offer to take the penalty and his advice to put the ball in the opposite corner to his regular spot, Hardyman stuck to his guns and struck his left-footed effort towards Burridge’s right.

But it lacked power and trundled towards Burridge who had guessed the right way in front of the Fulwell End.

“I still blame Gordon Armstrong for putting me off!” he said.

“It was one of those moments that you dream about – scoring a last-minute winner in a derby.

“I used to practice penalties against Tony Norman and Tim Carter and tell them where I was going to put it to make sure I hit it right.

“I hit it far too low whereas all my other penalties I’d put high into the net.

“Understandably, I was probably a bit nervous when I came up to take it, although I was still confident I’d score, but, unfortunately, I didn’t.”

For days afterwards Hardyman languished under a cloud of guilt.

The only solace available was that Sunderland headed to Tyneside with the aggregate scoreline still goalless and in good form away from home after winning five of their previous six games on their travels.

Hardyman joined back-up keeper Tim Carter and the injured Colin Pascoe in the stands at St James’s, all three decked in the club’s gaudy fluorescent blue shellsuits.

They were hardly inconspicuous – particularly after Eric Gates handed Denis Smith’s side the lead – and received a predictably hostile reception from the locals.

The sensible decision was made to watch the second half from the players’ lounge, racing down to the tunnel when Gabbiadini doubled Sunderland’s advantage, only to find their team-mates stumbling towards them as Newcastle supporters invaded the pitch.

Afterwards, Hardyman told the Echo it was the “happiest day of my life” even though he would remain suspended for the subsequent play-off final at Wembley.

It’s a sentiment he maintains today.

“It was a fantastic night at St James’s and has probably only been matched when Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips both scored there in the rain,” said Hardyman.

“I had never played at Wembley, yet I was the happiest man in the world not to play there.

“The lads did the job that was needed to get us through to the play-off final and I was delighted.

“After the miss, I was so gutted because that might have cost us, but thankfully it didn’t.”

Hardyman’s chance to appear at Wembley would arrive two years later after being introduced from the bench in the 1992 FA Cup final.

It was to be his final appearance in red and white, yet with a promotion, relegation and cup run on his CV during his three-year stint at Sunderland, the £130,000 signing from Portsmouth understandably looks back favourably on his time at Roker.

“We had a really good team spirit and that all came through Denis Smith and Viv Busby (assistant manager) who bonded us into a really good side,” he added.

“People like Gordon Armstrong and Gary Owers were young lads who had the club at heart and worked their socks off.

“We had a team of players who gave 100 per cent

“I had a lot of confidence that first season after being bought by Denis Smith. It was a little bit different than coming through the youth system at Portsmouth where you were part of the fixtures and fittings.

“At times, I felt more at home at Sunderland than at Portsmouth. I was enjoying playing and Roker Park was always special.”