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On This Day (14 September 1935): Sunderland win 2-0 away against Stanley Matthews’ Stoke City!

Sunderland won their last-ever top-flight league title in 1936 - and on their route to the championship, they won away at Stoke 86 years ago thanks to the heroics of goakeeper Jimmy Thorpe.


“A week ago I was handing out football bouquets to Swift, the Manchester City goalkeeper. Today they go to Jimmy Thorpe, who has never shown more judgement in the Sunderland goal than he did at Stoke.”

Argus, September 16th 1935, Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette


Having kicked off the campaign with a disappointing 3-1 loss away at Arsenal, Sunderland bounced back in convincing fashion, and went on to win their next three matches - coming from behind in a 3-1 away victory at West Brom in which Patsy Gallacher (2) and Raich Carter got on the scoresheet; a 2-0 victory at Roker Park in front of over 38,000 supporters against a Manchester City side that included Matt Busby; and a thumping 6-1 home victory over West Brom again which saw captain Raich Carter score four of the goals.

Spirits were high on Wearside, and as was reported the day before the game in the Sunderland Echo & Shipping Gazette, the Lads were certainly on a high following the rousing win Roker Park on the previous Wednesday evening:

Sunderland are set a difficult task at Stoke tomorrow, but the Wearsiders should not be lacking in confidence following their smashing midweek victory over West Bromwich Albion.

That said, Stoke themselves had started the season well, also sat on six points after four games, and that much was noted - with many at the time believing that the home advantage would just about carry Bob McGrory’s men through.

Stanley Matthews Stoke City Football Cigarette Card 1935 Stu Forster/Getty Images/Hulton Archive

Match Preview: The Evening Sentinel, Sept 13th 1935

Stoke’s local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, were a little more guarded with their view of what could lie ahead - with a preview by ‘Potter’ noting just how good Sunderland were at the time. The Lads had managed to win in both games against Stoke in the previous season - a 3-0 victory in the potteries early in the season, followed by a thumping 4-1 win in March.

Sunderland, the side that gave the finest display seen at the Victoria Ground last season, are Stoke’s visitors tomorrow - and the City are still without Davies.

Stoke announce the same side as that which beat Chelsea on Monday, which means that Steele will be at insight-right and Liddle at inside-left.

It should be a big occasion. Sunderland come as one of the most attractive combinations in football. They would be an exceptional draw in any circumstances.

To make the match more intriguing, if Stoke can win it they will really be up among the leaders of the league. They have everything to play for - two points which would be especially valuable because they would be from rivals on the same points level as themselves, and revenge for last season’s bad beating.

It certainly was a bad beating, and it should be noted that Sunderland tomorrow will have nine of the eleven who inflicted it.

Thorpe is in goal instead of Middleton - one apparently is about as good as the other, for each had 21 first team games last season, and both have been in the side this season - and Clarke has come in at centre half in place of Johnston. There are the same backs, same wing-halves and same forwards.

What is more, they seem to be playing as well as last season. Their only check so far has been at Highbury, where any side could lose without worrying, and after winning 3-1 at West Bromwich, they scored a good home victory over strong rivals like Manchester City, and on Wednesday ran up six in the home game with the Albion.

Reports indicate that the forward line was brilliant, and remembering their form in two matches against Stoke last season, this is easily believed. Their interchanging of positions was specially noticed. They did plenty of that last season, with Gurney constantly wandering to the right of goal and Davis stealing into positions where it was difficult to keep a watch on him. These two did most of the damage last time, even though for good football Carter - who scored four goals on Wednesday - and the Gallacher-Connor wing always took the eye.

Against all this, it has to be weighed that Stoke are not likely to have such an off-day as that Saturday last November when they went on the field as league leaders.

They added:

Now they are playing well, are full of confidence, and have been scoring goals with a freedom that has pleased supporters.

In what should be a great game, Stoke, as the home side, will be looked to as likely winners. If it is true they lost at home to Sunderland last season, it is also true that they beat a Sunderland side very similar in composition by 3-0 in the season before.

Image taken from the Sept 14th 1935 edition of the Staffordshire Sentinel

The Game

Both teams lined up as expected, with Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney and Patsy Gallacher forming the Sunderland attack that was hoping to take Stoke to task on their own patch - though, on the morning of the game there were rumours that Gurney might not play, with the Echo reporting that he had ‘contracted a chill’.

Stoke’s side included Bobby Liddle - an inside left who was born in Gateshead and had worked down the pit at Washington Colliery for a year before he was scouted and signed by The Potters in 1928.

The teams as shown in that day’s Sunderland Echo [1935]

34,516 supporters packed into the Victoria Ground to witness the clash between two of the league’s finest sides - and whilst the opening stages of the game were poor, the quality of the play improved as the first half wore on.

The pitch was hard and bobbly after a long, warm summer, which made it difficult for both sides to hold on to the ball - and Sunderland’s passing in those early moments was slack.

An error from Alex Hall let in Stanley Matthews - the famous winger who wowed supporters at Stoke for another THIRTY YEARS after this game, not retiring until he was 50 years old in 1965 - but a fine challenge from Jimmy Clarke denied him when he was in a shooting position.

Stoke continued to ramp up the pressure, and a brilliant save from Jimmy Thorpe - the young goalkeeper who would go on to tragically lose his life after an injury sustained in a game with Chelsea just 5 months later - denied Tommy Sale an almost-certain goal.

Sunderland managed to feel their way into the game, and their passing improved - leading to two decent attacks which Stoke managed to fend off.

Stoke went close near the break, with Thorpe denying what seemed another certain goal, and Johnny Cochraine’s side were probably a tad fortunate to have not conceded in the opening half of the game.

Both sides exchanged half-chances in the lead up to the half time break, and in the Sunderland Echo they quipped on the frustration suffered by the Wearsiders as, time after time, they fell foul of Stoke’s offside trap:

There was nothing of outstanding merit in the game, and Sunderland’s whole scheme of attack was upset by the offside tactics employed by the Stoke defence. Gurney simply would walk right into it.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Arsenal v Sunderland - Highbury
Jimmy Thorpe enjoyed a fine display in goal for The Lads
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

After the break, Thorpe was called into action to deny Matthews again - another fine stop.

The Staffordshire Sentinel reported that the home side were well on top - but couldn’t make their control of the game count:

Stoke were now winning this game in everything except scoring goals, for they were certainly having more of the play. It was only their shooting that was not impressive.

In the 63rd minute, Sunderland eventually got the game’s first goal - one that was described as ‘a gift’ by The Staffordshire Sentinel, as Charlie Scrimshaw totally under-hit a backpass to the goalkeeper that Bert Davis intercepted and turned past Norman Lewis in the Stoke goal.

Billy Spencer went down with head injury in the lead up to the Sunderland goal, and eventually had to go off for treatment - leaving Stoke with ten men on the field. Remember, this was back in the day when there were no substitutes!

Spencer eventually returned to the field but the injury coupled with the defensive mix-up that caused Stoke to concede sent them all to pot, and their previously resolute defence looked a tad nervy - nerves that led to Sunderland nabbing a second in the 71st minute.

Lewis in the Stoke goal miscontrolled the ball and sent it out for a corner under no pressure, and Sunderland took full advantage when the first goalscorer, Bert Davis, crossed and found the head of Patsy Gallacher, who nodded the ball home to double Sunderland’s lead.

It wasn’t all plain-sailing though, and a foul inside the area on Freddie Steele led to Stoke being awarded a penalty - much to the chagrin of Sunderland, who felt the referee had got the decision wrong.

Thorpe - who had played superbly in goal all afternoon - was a thorn in Stoke’s side again, making a tremendous save from Arthur Turner’s spot kick, turning his hard shot onto the bar with both hands to keep his clean sheet intact.

He continued to hold firm as the game ran on, and Sunderland held out for an impressive victory away from home in a game where Stoke could probably feel aggrieved to have not scored - had it not been for the fine display from Thorpe, and their own defensive frailties, the result could have gone very differently.


The Aftermath - Argus’ view of the game

In the following Monday’s edition of the Echo, Argus was perhaps a little less kind about how Stoke had fared in the game, and was less sympathetic towards the plight of Sunderland’s opponents on the day:

Luck, they say, was with Sunderland. Perhaps it was, but not to the extent even some of the Sunderland directors thought. They were of the opinion that Sunderland got their second goal from a corner which should have been a goal-kick, as it was a foot behind when the Stoke goalkeeper touched it. The linesman on that side told me after the game that it was a corner in any circumstances, for Lewis was endeavouring to prevent a deflected shot going behind.

From the same source I gathered that the penalty kick against Clarke was for using his hands against an opponent’s back when tackling from behind. A not unusual offence in football detected - that’s all.

Argus went on to add:

I sum up the Stoke game in this way: Sunderland won when 50% below normal form.

That certainly bode well for the rest of the season, as Sunderland winning when playing below standard became an infrequent occurrence.

They continued to battle up the table until they eventually reached the top in late October, briefly dropping to second before going back top on November 9th - a position they maintained all the way through to the end of the season, resulting in a much-deserved league title.

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