Following our promotion from the Second Division in 1964, most associated with Sunderland AFC no doubt hoped that it may herald the beginning of a bright new era for the club, and that it may re-capture some its past glories. Sadly, this was not to be, for the next six seasons would see our once proud club battling for First Division survival, a battle which was finally lost at the end of the 1969-70 season.
Thus we started our first full season of the 70’s back in the Second Division and our first game of the 1970-71 campaign saw us make the long journey to the South West to face Bristol City at Ashton Gate, and while our attack showed that it seemed to be up to scratch when we netted three goals courtesy of Joe Baker (2) and Bobby Kerr, on the other side of the coin, Bristol City illustrated our defensive vulnerability well when they went one better goal-wise to end up 4-3 winners. The result perhaps also illustrated that our task of regaining our First Division place was not going to be at all straightforward.
So it was on to our first home game of the new campaign, against Watford, and the fixture had a touch of novelty about it, for it was the very-first League meeting between ourselves and the men from Hertfordshire. This was in fact only The Hornets second-ever season as a Second Division club and while they’d narrowly avoided relegation the previous campaign, they’d begun 1970-71 in encouraging style, having won in both the league and league cup prior to their initial visit to Roker Park. Clearly they were not going to be pushovers. Watford were unchanged but we made one change to the side beaten at Bristol, with Richie Pitt coming in for Brian Heslop, while the game would also mark a milestone for Jim Montgomery, who was making his three-hundredth appearance for us.
Watford won the toss and we kicked-off attacking the Fulwell End. After a promising move involving Ian Porterfield, Bobby Park and Billy Hughes had broken down, the visitors immediately responded and stunned us by taking the lead with their first real attack of the game after only five minutes. Mick McGiven conceded a free-kick just outside of the penalty area and Charlie Woods played the ball square to Tom Walley, who hit a fierce shot which found the back of the net following a wicked deflection off our defensive wall which left Jim Montgomery helpless.
Boosted by this early breakthrough, The Hornets continued to press, and Jim Montgomery had to pull off a great save to prevent us falling further into arrears when he dived full-length to stop a powerful drive from Watford skipper Keith Eddy. Then a promising move involving Roy Sinclair and Stewart Scullion set up a chance for Tom Walley, but thankfully for us he lifted his left-foot drive high over the bar.
However, we then began to develop some attacking momentum, and keeper Mike Walker - who would later go on to manage both Norwich and Everton - had to be alert to deal with a couple of dangerous raids, then Bobby Park had a shot blocked. Our best chance so far came in the twenty-second minute, when Martin Harvey hit a long ball into the middle from the left and Joe Baker challenged Mike Walker; the ball broke to Bobby Kerr, who returned the ball into the middle to Baker, who was denied a second chance when Walker snatched the ball off his head.
It was now end-to-end stuff, and it looked as if Watford might extend their lead when John Williams went on a run down the right-wing and centred to find Ron Wigg. The latter’s header seemed destined for the back of the net before Jim Montgomery came to the rescue with a brilliant save, though he needed two attempts to gather the ball.
A couple of dangerous-looking centres from Billy Hughes and Bobby Kerr caused some anxiety in the Watford defence, then came our best move of the game so far. Ian Porterfield brought in Bobby Kerr and Bobby Park on the right and when the ball was moved on to Cecil Irwin, the full-back’s subsequent pass looked like picking out Joe Baker, but Walter Lees was able to clear the danger.
But in the thirty-seventh minute we drew level with a great goal from Bobby Park, when the young Scot dribbled his way past three defenders before beating Mike Walker with a well-placed left-foot drive. We could well have gone in at the break in front through the same player after a fine move instigated by another member of our Scottish contingent, Billy Hughes. Hughes went on a fine run down the left before crossing to find Park, who sent in a powerful left-foot drive which appeared goal-bound, but the ball struck a defender and lifted over Mike Walker’s head before dropping just outside of the upright.
1-1 then at the break and it had certainly been an entertaining first-half, but there was plenty more action and excitement to come. We began the second period on the offensive - Mike Walker was forced to save well in quick succession from Bobby Park and Ian Porterfield respectively, then in another brisk move, a centre from Joe Baker picked out Bobby Park, but the header was cleared before Bobby Kerr could take advantage.
The game really came alive with a burst of three goals inside an incredible seven-minute spell. In the fifty-second minute we went ahead for the first time in the game, when “the two Bobbies”, Kerr and Park, combined well on the right and the latter’s centre was met by Billy Hughes, who beat Mike Walker with a well-placed header.
Only five minutes later though, the visitors were on level terms, Keith Eddy having played a free-kick to Charlie Woods whose centre picked out Ron Wigg, who headed powerfully past Jim Montgomery. Then incredibly, we regained the lead just two minutes hence and, in common with our second goal, Bobby Park was again the instigator. This time it all stemmed from a free-kick he won twenty-five yards out, and when his long ball into the box picked out Billy Hughes, he played the ball on to Bobby Kerr, whose header left Walker helpless.
We then thought we’d made it 4-2 not long afterwards, when Bobby Kerr headed on for Ian Porterfield to beat Mike Walker with a shot which went in via the upright, but the referee disallowed it for an infringement.
Eddy was then a bit too close for comfort with a long range effort, and a Billy Hughes header lacked the power to cause any real problems for Mike Walker as the game continued to swing from end to end. Joe Baker had a header cleared off the line by Williams, then in the eighty-fourth minute, this topsy-turvy game took another twist when Watford equalized; Mick McGiven conceded a free-kick near the corner flag, and Stewart Scullion’s free-kick picked out Walter Lees, whose powerful header left Jim Montgomery helpless.
Mike Walker then saved well from Joe Baker after the latter had been set up by a centre from Bobby Kerr, but 3-3 was how it finished, perhaps a fair result overall. It had certainly been a fine afternoon’s entertainment for the crowd of just over 16,000, what with both ourselves and Watford having been committed to attack, but on the less positive side we’d again been found wanting defensively, having conceded three for the second game in a row. We were also left still seeking our initial win of the 70-71 campaign, even though it was only two games old. Thankfully we’d not have too long to wait before we broke our duck, in the very next home game as fate would have it.