Bygones: The only time Sunderland have visited Doncaster Rovers

IT would be an understatement of the highest order to say that Doncaster Rovers and Sunderland have both had their fair share of ups and downs in recent times.

Flashback: Action from Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland 31 years ago.
Flashback: Action from Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland 31 years ago.

In the past two decades alone, the pair have experienced a combined total of 15 promotions or relegations; eight divisional changes for Rovers, seven for the Mackems.

Considering the near-endless state of flux that both clubs perpetually find themselves in, it could, therefore, come as a shock to many to realise that they have only shared a league once before in their respective histories.

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The last, and indeed only, occasion that Sunderland frequented this particular corner of South Yorkshire came back in August, 1987.

Rovers, under player-manager Dave Cusack, welcomed the newly-relegated Black Cats to Belle Vue.

The attendance that day remains the lowest crowd to watch a Sunderland league game, with just 2,740 hardy souls in situ.

However, rather than a lack of interest in the visit of Denis Smith’s side, the pitiful crowd figure that afternoon could be attributed to the stadium undergoing restructural work to bring it in line with relevant safety standards in the wake of the Bradford City fire.

For those who were fortunate enough to get a ticket, they witnessed a fairly routine victory for the visitors thanks to a goal in either half from Paul Lemon and Gary Owers.

Indeed, the early-season meeting was to prove a decent yardstick for both clubs.

Sunderland would eventually go up as champions and, therefore, secure an immediate return to the Second Division.

The Black Cats romped to the title with a total of 93 points – nine clear of their closest challenger, Brighton. As for Rovers, they parted company with Cusack midway through the campaign.

His successor, Dave Mackay, was unable to stop the rot and the club eventually finished bottom with 33 points – 20 shy of safety.

Since their elevation that year, Sunderland spent the next three decades flitting between the top two tiers.

Their return to this level was confirmed last season, as the Wearsiders suffered a second successive relegation, exiting the Championship just 12 months after finishing bottom of the Premier League.

They renew hostilities with Rovers tomorrow evening at the Keepmoat Stadium – a venue that is a world away from Belle Vue, having first opened in 2007. With Sunderland set to bring a strong travelling contingent, that paltry attendance-related record from 31 years ago would not appear to be under threat any time soon.