Season 1970-71 would see us commence only our second spell in England’s second tier, and as events turned out we made a rather lacklustre (winless) start to our bid to regain top-flight status. On the opening day we’d lost a thrilling clash at Bristol City by 3-4, followed by another action-packed instalment when in our first home clash of the new season we shared six goals and the points in our first-ever league meeting with Watford.
However, there then followed another fruitless long trip to the South-West when we went down 0-2 at Swindon, which meant that at the end of August we found ourselves third from bottom in the Second Division with just a solitary point to our name. Hardly the sort of early-season form associated with a potential promotion candidate.
It had been a similar tale for the next visitors to Roker Park, Charlton Athletic. For the Londoners like ourselves were winless to date in the league, but were still a point better off than us/one place above us in the table prior to their mid-week trip to Wearside.
So the game in effect took on a form of early-season four-pointer (this was a few seasons before the introduction of three points for a win), but in actual fact it would see us break our duck for 1970-71 in the league, thanks mainly to our English International striker, Joe Baker.
Baker’s international status was a slight conundrum, for while he’d been brought up in Scotland and had actually appeared for Hibs before his career took him South of the border, his actual birthplace (Woolton, Liverpool), meant that, under the rules of the time, he was only eligible to play for England!
But back to the game itself. Despite Joe Baker and fellow Scot Bobby Park going close with two good early efforts, the first half-hour of the game saw Charlton subject our defence to a rather searching examination and we had Jim Montgomery to thank for keeping us in the game.
Firstly, he dived out to collect a Harry Gregory header before the same player then shot wide from a good position after being set up by Keith Peacock (whose son Gavin later appeared for Newcastle).
Then when the visitors gained a free-kick after Richie Pitt had fouled Peacock, Alan Campbell’s kick was cleared only as far as Peter Reeves, whose fierce, dipping right-foot effort looked destined for the back of our net until Monty went up to make a tremendous one-handed save.
Then when play switched briefly to the other end, a cross from Martin Harvey just eluded Bobby Park and a Billy Hughes header following a right-wing corner was wide of the mark. Charlton then responded, and Jim Montgomery was forced into his second brilliant save of the night, to clutch a powerful shot from Cyril Davies, which appeared destined for the bottom corner.
But in the thirty-ninth minute came the goal which changed the pattern of the game, although in slightly controversial circumstances. Bobby Kerr chased a through ball on the right into the box, where he was pushed in the back by Brian Kinsey, the referee consulting his linesman before awarding a penalty. In the absence of regular penalty-taker Gordon Harris, Joe Baker was entrusted with the spot-kick which he placed just inside the left-hand post, giving ‘keeper Charlie Wright no chance.
The visitors tried to respond but just three minutes later we made it 2-0 following a free-kick for a foul on Ian Porterfield by Bob Curtis. Porterfield took the kick himself and when it reached Cecil Irwin at the far post, the full-back nodded the ball down for Joe Baker to crack home his second goal of the night.
Baker could have a had his hat-trick shortly afterwards, for when Bobby Kerr beat Charlie Wright in a race for the ball and played it to his fellow Scot in the middle, Baker’s shot towards an open goal was cleared from the line by Charlton centre-half Paul Went.
2-0 then at the break, and a first league win of 1970-71 looked quite on the cards, and while Charlton came at us immediately after the restart in a bid to get back into the game, thankfully our defence was able to deal with the visitor’s attacking threat.
Thereafter there was only one team in the game; that which wore red and white stripes. In one storming attacking move, sparked off by a dangerous centre from Ian Porterfield, his fellow Scots Joe Baker, Bobby Park and Billy Hughes all had efforts charged down as the Charlton defence appeared to look rather desperate in it’s efforts to check our attacking momentum.
Indeed, our confidence now seemed sky-high as we poured forward at will and Joe Baker came close to grabbing his hat-trick when he sent in a powerful left-foot shot which just cleared the crossbar.
Baker was not to be denied though, and sixteen minutes from time he got his due reward when he netted his third goal of the night following good work from Billy Hughes, Bobby Kerr and Ian Porterfield, thus becoming the first Sunderland player to net a treble since Neil Martin achieved the feat against Blackpool four years previous.
Our relentless pressure could have seen us add to our goal tally but 3-0 was how it ended, a result which in no way flattered us as we got off the winning mark for the season, while there was also the bonus of a first clean sheet of the campaign.
Just a pity that the game was watched by a crowd of just under 12,000 - perhaps not a complete surprise, what in view of our rather tepid start to the campaign. We then proceeded to win all of our next three home games against Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton respectively, but unfortunately our strong home form was in rather sharp contrast to that on our travels. In fact our first away success of 1970-71 didn’t come until Halloween, and at high-flying Luton of all places.
This was in fact the story of the season, i.e. an overall lack of consistency, which meant we failed to make any sort of bid for immediate promotion and had to eventually settle for a disappointing finish of thirteenth. But as fate would have it, better times would not be too far away.