The title of the late Lance Hardy’s fantastic book ‘Stokoe, Sunderland and ‘73’ was perfectly judged, as if you mention those words on Wearside even now thoughts will immediately centre around one of the most romantic FA Cup stories of all time.
The Lads knocked out some of the biggest and best sides in the land en route to the trophy, and then just a few short months later they went back out and proved it was no fluke whatsoever; 1973-74 may have been a difficult season for the club overall – Wembley glory took some getting used to and brought with it enormous pressure, but a League Cup 2nd round match up with Derby County gave Stokoe’s Stars the chance to show everybody that on their day they could still mix it with the elite.
League champions in 1972, the Rams were a class act and had reached the semi-final stages of the European Cup during the same season Sunderland were earning themselves a place in FA Cup history.
The draw had extra spice too in that it pitted Bob Stokoe with former Roker hero Brian Clough, the pair having long endured an acrimonious relationship ever since Clough suffered what would prove to be a career injury.
Player-manager for opponents Bury on the day of the incident, Stokoe was said to have accused Clough of faking injury as he lay on the turf in agony after colliding with the goalkeeper.
The two north easterners never made things up and it contributed to a feisty affair played at the Baseball Ground on this day.
Sunderland picked up a number of bumps and bruises in Derbyshire and if people were being honest, few would have batted an eye lid had the team slipped out of the competition there and then – the squad was already under fixture pressure following progress in the Cup Winners Cup anyway, and with talisman Dennis Tueart missing due to a knee problem the already difficult task soon turned into an even tougher assignment.
With Colin Todd, like Clough a one time fan favourite on Wearside, in typically imperious form the home side cruised into a 2-0 lead before half time.
To make matters worse and with several other players already in the wars Micky Horswill had to be withdrawn at the break due to having a suspected concussion, yet the team were still able to hang in before embarking on a remarkable late comeback.
Joe Bolton had come on for Horswill, but it was another youth product that took the headlines.
Wearing what would have usually been Tueart’s number 11 shirt and playing on the wing, John Lathan had an eye for goal and it certainly came to the fore here with two goals within the space of eight minutes.
Sunderland born and part of the 1969 FA Youth Cup winning team for whom he played as a striker, Lathan had already notched a senior hattrick a year earlier and now his brace had set up a replay back in his hometown.
Tueart returned to the fold for that one later in the month and went on to score the opener, but when the game ended 1-1 after extra time the tie was eventually settled thanks to a Vic Halom hattrick in a second replay – Sunderland’s comfortable 3-0 victory rounding off a classic trilogy in impressive style.
Derby were added to the list of slain giants therefore, and they were almost joined by Liverpool after the next round too – the Merseysiders only going through after they scored a crucial goal when the hosts were down to ten men due to the influential Dave Watson receiving treatment and following it up with a fortuitous second.
It was a cruel way to lose, but Sunderland had already reiterated to everybody that they had real cup pedigree.
Monday 8 October 1973
League Cup round two
Derby County 2 (Nish 21, Davies 41)
Sunderland 2 (Lathan 73, 81)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Watson, Young, Guthrie; Kerr, Horswill (Bolton 46), Hughes, Lathan; Halom, Porterfield.
Baseball Ground, attendance 29,172