milk cup

Player of the Day: Gary Bennett

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Club legend 'Benno' in the spotlight as Wembley theme continues.

Fifth on Sunderland’s all-time appearances list, Gary Bennett played 444 games for the Black Cats between 1984 and 1995.

The Manchester-born centre-back progressed through the youth ranks at Manchester City, though he never played league football for the Maine Road outfit, instead waiting until September 1981 for his first taste of league action with Cardiff City.

Three years later, ‘Benno’ as he is affectionately known on Wearside, moved to Sunderland for a tribunal-set fee of £65,000.

Immediately endearing himself to the Roker faithful, Gary scored just two minutes into his Black Cats debut past Southampton and England keeper Peter Shilton.

Bennett featured for Sunderland at Wembley in his debut campaign as Len Ashurst’s side were defeated 1-0 by Norwich City in the 1985 Milk Cup final.

He was voted the Black Cats’ Player of the Year a season later, though the season wouldn’t be remembered fondly by Bennett as Sunderland suffered relegation to the third tier for the first time in their history.

Few at Roker will forget Gary’s last minute header in the playoff second leg with Gillingham that looked to have saved Bob Stokoe’s side from the drop.

Now an ever-present member of the starting XI, Benno captained Denis Smith’s side to immediate promotion and the Division Three championship a season later.

Fondly remembered not just for his solid defensive displays, but also his trademark runs forward, Gary helped Smith’s side return to the second tier in 1990 – following the creation of the FA Premier League – as Swindon Town, who defeated the Black Cats at Wembley in the playoff final, were denied promotion due to breaching league rules.

That season, Gary had scored arguably his best Sunderland goal as he lifted the ball over Gary Pallister and curled a fine effort beyond Gary Bailey in the United goal to give Denis Smith’s side a last-minute 2-1 win against the Red Devils.

A further Wembley appearance would follow for Bennett in the form of the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool; though it would not be third time lucky for the now BBC Radio Newcastle match summariser as Malcolm Crosby’s side went down 2-0 to the Reds.

Benno spent another three seasons with the club and his status as a club legend was marked when almost 22,000 fans attended his testimonial match at Roker Park against Rangers.

Spells with Carlisle United, Scarborough and Darlington followed before a brief spell in charge of the Quakers between 2000 and 2001.

Gary now follows Sunderland up and down the country in partnership with Nick Barnes as the pair are now in their 11th season covering the Black Cats for BBC Radio Newcastle.