Season 75/76 was a Championship-winning season after two consecutive close calls for promotion following our FA Cup victory in 1973.
Our home form that season was excellent with nineteen league games won and two drawn, we were dominant and irresistible at Roker Park.
Unfortunately, we were not so dominant away from home, losing ten and drawing six. I was lucky enough to witness four of our five wins on the road that season (though on reflection I also travelled and endured six of our ten defeats!).
The first of those victories came at Blackburn on the 20th September 1975. It was my first trip to Ewood Park and a memorable trip it proved to be.
From the hilarious company on the Supporters bus, the extremely tasty pies and beers in a very welcoming hostelry close to the ground and an absolute “rip snorter” of a game, it had everything away trips were meant to be about!
Our defence that season had a great consistency in selection. Monty was probably at the peak of his powers and rightly held the accolade of best uncapped goalie in the football league.
Jeff Clarke had arrived from Man City as the incomparable Dave Watson went the other way. Clarke had very big shoes to fill and did an excellent job that season (had there not been so many good centre halves around at that time, his performances that season might have warranted international consideration).
Bobby Moncur had been put out to grass by Newcastle, but having arrived the previous season, he produced an extended Indian summer for us at the end of his career and played an especially important part in our promotion that season with his organisation and reading of the game.
Joe Bolton had cemented his place at left back and apart from being a fearsome competitor, his express train runs forward caused mayhem at times.
Dick Malone was the man in possession of the right back berth and despite being challenged by Micky Henderson, he delivered a great season and some memorable link up play with the Little General in front of him Bobby Kerr.
Having seen Kerr in his debut season and witnessed many of his games up to his last game in August 1978, I still maintain this was Kerr’s best season for us, he made forty-five appearances in league and cup, scoring eight goals. His assists that season I am sure would have been phenomenal had we been seriously counting these back then.
Jackie Ashurst (23 appearances) and Micky Henderson (11 appearances) provided effective defensive cover that season.
Up front, Vic Halom had the number 9 jersey at the start of the season, but Mel Holden would be the man in possession by the time we got to Christmas that year. Bryan Pop Robson who had scored twenty-one goals the previous campaign for us and had not missed a game, followed this up with forty-six league and cup appearances in the 75/76 season as well as fifteen goals. He was a very fit and class act. Billy Hughes had not had the best of starts and had struggled to get into the starting eleven prior to this game and Ian Porterfield was back in the squad following his car accident in December 1974 that had left him with a fractured skull and broken jaw. A classy midfielder on his day and as good as any in that division, he was never quite the same after his accident.
Dennis Longhorn had arrived in February 1974 from Mansfield (in a deal that took Steve Lathan to Mansfield). Tall and almost elegant, on a good day you could see a talented player in there, unfortunately for me, we just did not see that many good days at Sunderland. I suspect he suffered a little, having been bought to replace the all-action and extremely popular Mickey Horswill.
Ray Train joined us later that season and provided great energy and vigour in a formidable midfield, which was absolutely cemented by one of my favourite players, Tony Towers. He had arrived from Man City at the end of the 73/74 season and was for me the complete package of a midfield maestro. He had a fantastic range of passing and a ferocious shot. He had an absolute rolls Royce of an engine and seemed to thrive in the heat of a midfield battle with tackles flying. He weighed in with ten goals in his thirty-nine appearances in total for us that campaign, which saw him capped by England three times in the Home International series in 1976.
As we exited the pub near the ground and joined an estimated 4,500 away fans, I remember thinking Manager Bob Stokoe had assembled a good squad, surely this would be our time!
Ewood Park, like Roker Park, was a grand traditional stadium that on its day could generate a bit of noise. However, like Roker Park it was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. Blackburn’s biggest crowd of the season 15,773 had rolled up and what a “rip snorter” of a game they witnessed.
Right from the off both teams were at it, with Billy Hughes (back in the starting eleven following his goal scoring cameo the previous game) back to his bustling electric best as he teased and threatened the whole 90 minutes.
Rovers could have taken the lead but for a great save from Monty from a Metcalf (their best player on the day) free kick. The game was swinging from one end of the pitch to the other and right in the middle of this was Tony Towers, conducting, cajoling, looking like he had all the time in the world as pandemonium ensued.
Around the half hour mark a smart Robson-Hughes exchange set up Towers approximately thirty yards out. He unleashed one of his trademark thunderbolts, which just clipped a defender before burying itself in the corner of the net. Cue absolute bedlam in the away end, what a goal to cap a brilliant individual performance so far! It was no more than we deserved, but even at that juncture the score could have easily been 3-2 to us.
Towers could have scored again in the second half with another pile-driver from a similar distance, which produced a save from Jones in the Rovers goal that was every bit as good as Monty’s in the first half. Hughes and Robson also went close in the second half as the game continued to see-saw from one goalmouth to the other.
The game was absolutely frantic as it drew to a close.
At 1-0 Blackburn were never quite out of it, but we hung on and took the points to move to second in the table behind Notts County. The score could easily have been 7-6 to us and nobody in attendance would have been surprised.
Towers was my man of the match, with Hughes, Robson and Joe Bolton not far behind.
So, there it was, a victory on my first visit to Ewood Park and what a humdinger it had been.
Blackburn – Jones: Heaton: Hutt: Metcalf: Hawkins: Fazakerley: Beamish: Oates: Hoy: Parkes: Martin.
Sunderland – Montgomery: Malone: Bolton: Moncur: Clarke: Towers: Porterfield: Kerr: Hughes: Robson: Halom. Sub – Holden.
Scorer - Towers (31 minutes)
Hopefully, we can put in an all-round display similar to my first ever visit that brings some reward. I would happily forgo all the goalmouth action in our box though!