Football teams can undergo remarkable transformations in a short period of time, and football teams can go through poor spells of results: this isn’t news.
But even the most optimistic of supporters would, on the evening of 7 October 1972, have struggled to have predicted FA Cup glory and legendary Sunderland status many of the team who’d lined up that afternoon would go on to achieve that season.
The season hadn’t gotten off to the best of starts for the team who’d finished fifth in the second tier the previous season. Three wins in nine had left the lads in 10th place, and while a 4-1 win at home to Forest had lifted the mood around the club, a 5-1 hammering at Oxford brought everyone back down to earth with a rather large bump.
That victory over Forest was Alan Brown’s 200th as Sunderland manager – and it turned out to be his last – although when Bobby Kerr gave the lads the lead in the 23rd minute, it looked like another two points could be on the cards.
Kerr had been played in behind the defence by Ian Porterfield’s pass, which beat the home team’s offside trap, and smashed the ball over the keeper’s head for a deserved lead. There were a couple of goalmouth scrambles in the away box that Sunderland were perhaps fortunate to get away with, while at the other end, Tueart had a goal disallowed for a foul by forward John Lathan on Oxford keeper Roy Burton.
However, the Us had deployed a few ‘rough house’ tactics on the lads in the first half – Montgomery, Malone, Horswill and Hughes all suffered thigh injuries dished out by the same home player, Nigel Cassidy. Cassidy had been spoken to by the referee on more than one occasion – twice for fouls on Monty – but the referee John Wrennel failed to get a grip on the game.
So Sunderland limped out for the second half, with Dick Malone, in particular, struggling.
And, in typical fashion, it was Cassidy who scored an equaliser a few moments after the break – heading home from a Skeen cross.
Tueart had a good chance to put the lads in the lead again. However, it was the home team that edged in front; David Sloan scoring a diving header just after the hour.
On 75 minutes, Dave Watson – still a forward at this point – powered a header towards goal, but Burton pulled off a magnificent save to punch the ball out for a corner.
What happened then was quite remarkable – in the space of ten minutes the game went from a 2-1 close contest to a 5-1 stuffing, with Oxford striker Hugh Curran netting a quickfire hat-trick, and piling the pressure on Bomber.
The following week, we went down 2-0 at home to a Luton side featuring Vic Halom and Viv Busby upfront, Halom scoring the opener. An away defeat to QPR and a home draw with Fulham followed – and wrapped up Brown’s remarkable 550 games in charge at the club.
The 60-year-old manager had a spell coaching in Norway before assisting for a spell at Plymouth – however, despite his second spell in charge of Sunderland petering out somewhat, he’d laid the foundations for what was to follow over the coming seasons.
7 October 1972
Oxford United 5-1 Sunderland
Kerr 23, Cassidy 47, Sloan 65, Curran 79, 81, 89.
Oxford: Burton, Lucas, Shuker, Roberts, C Clarke, Evanson, Sloan, Skeen, Curran, Cassidy (D Clarke, 60), Aylott.
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Coleman, Horswill, Ashurst, Porterfield, Hughes (Hamilton 70), Kerr, Watson, Lathan, Tueart.