It was the end of an era back in November 1972, when Alan Brown was relieved of his duties as manager of Sunderland.
The manager, who was revered by Brian Clough, had become an institution at Roker Park during his two spells at the club, even though he presided over the club's first two relegations from the top flight of English football.
After the second fall into the Second Division in April 1970, Brown had presided over two campaigns that ultimately failed to return us back to Division One, and as the winter months and the dark nights of the 1972/73 season began it was looking bleak as we sat 14th in the second tier.
“Terminated by mutual consent” was the statement from the board and Alan Brown was no longer in charge at Roker Park. The rumour mill began and the list of names linked with the job was endless - Len Ashurst, Brian Clough, Tommy Docherty, Dave Mackay and Charlie Hurley were just some of the high profile names that the media could rattle off that stood a chance.
Not many journalists of the time picked out Blackpool manager Bob Stokoe to become the clubs sixth manager in thirteen years, but on the 20th November, it was confirmed that Northumberland-born Stokoe would get the nod. But the 42-year-old wouldn’t officially take charge until Sunderland took on Burnley at Roker Park at the beginning of December so he could preside over Burnley’s League Cup quarter-final clash before leaving for the North-East.
The visit of Burnley for Stokoe’s first game in charge would end in defeat for The Lads, which stretched our poor run of form out to one win in the last thirteen games in the Second Division. But slowly, green shoots were spotted.
By that time, Sunderland had dropped even further into 19th position, out of a league of 22 teams where the bottom two were relegated, but in our next three we managed to win two and draw one. The last of which was a 4-0 home win over Brighton and Hove Albion, but we still found ourselves fourth from bottom in the table.
Following the emphatic victory at Roker over Brighton, we found ourselves facing the distraction of the FA Cup third round, which had drawn us against Division Three mid-table side Notts County.
In the build-up to the game, 28-year-old defender Ron Guthrie completed his move from Newcastle United just 24 hours before kick-off, which meant he had to miss out on making his debut in the cup for Sunderland.
The only fitness worry ahead of the game was the availability of captain Bobby Kerr, who was suffering from back pain that could not be diagnosed. Kerr had became a Father a fortnight prior to the cup-tie, and had been suffering the past week but Stokoe was confident he would make it, and reiterated how important the FA Cup was:
The Cup is the is the only thing that matters to me this weekend. It is very important to us, and although I’m not hiding the fact that I still want to sign a centre-forward I don’t want the players distracted by transfer talk this week.
Bob Stokoe also sprung a surprise ahead of the game by including 18-year-old Jack Ashurst in the side, which he confirmed the day prior to the game:
I have been very impressed by the lad and have decided to give him a chance.
The teenage Scot was a tough midfielder and had made his debut two months prior to the cup-tie at Meadow Lane against Millwall in the capital which Sunderland won by the only goal of the game, but was dropped after a run of games that ended with a 5-1 defeat at Oxford United.
Notts County had much of the opening exchanges and deserved their goal just before the half-hour mark to command a lead in the game. Jimmy Montgomery could only parry a Kevin Randall shot into the path of Les Bradd who was left to knock it in.
Stokoe clearly had some choice words at half-time as Sunderland looked brighter after the interval, but County were still the better side despite not being able to get the all-important second goal. And this fact came back to bite The Magpies when with eleven minutes left on the clock, Dave Watson, who was returning to Notts County after beginning his career at Meadow Lane, bagged an equaliser against the run of play.
It was a big day for Watson as he was returning to the club where it all started, but he was sold to Rotherham United for a mere £1,000 in 1967, only for Sunderland to pick him up for £100,000 in 1970. All of Watson’s family were present to see him claim an equaliser but would have had split loyalties with most of them supporting Notts County from the stand.
The game ended all square and three days later the two sides were scheduled to go at it again for a place in the fourth round, where the draw that occurred 24 hours after the final whistle, had drawn Sunderland or Notts County against Charlie Hurley’s Reading side.
Saturday 13th January, 1973
FA Cup 3rd Round
Notts County 1-1 Sunderland
[Bradd 29’ - Watson 79’]
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Horswill, Watson, Tones, Kerr, Ashurst, Hughes, Porterfield, Tueart Substitute not used: McGiven
Notts County: Brown, Brindley, Worthington, Masson, Needham, Stubbs, Nixon, Bradd, Randall, Mann, Carter Substitute not used: Bolton