As Sunderland prepare for their game against West Bromwich Albion tomorrow evening, the two sides were wrapping up a double-header over a century ago.
During the 1920-1921 season, most fixtures were scheduled in pairs, with the return game against the Baggies providing the perfect opportunity to atone for a heavy defeat in Sandwell seven days earlier.
Boss Robert Kyle was evidently unimpressed with what he’d seen at the Hawthorns as his side slipped to a 4-1 loss, and so he made several changes for the rematch. He moved several of his players into new positions and brought Jimmy Dempster, Bert Hobson, Harry Sherwin and Billy Moore into the side.
Dempster and Sherwin had ended the previous campaign in the team but were making their first appearances since, and several thousand supporters opted not to make a return on this occasion.
Coming on the back of a ten-game winless run and amidst poor weather, reports suggested there were as few as 10,000 spectators in the stands when the game kicked off at 2:00pm.
Although that number did rise as more and more people filtered through the gates, the lack of urgency from some fans hinted at a sense of apathy and the eventual attendance was the lowest of the season so far.
The fans that did turn up needed to see some signs of life from their heroes, but fears of more struggle arose when Alf Bentley went close for the visitors within seconds of the start.
Overcast conditions had resulted in a soft pitch, but Sunderland were able to respond quickly and both teams began trading chances. The surface did make it a battle at times, but Kyle’s tinkering seemed to be making a difference and the Lads were giving it a go.
The supporters were being treated to the best performance in weeks and although Dempster had been forced into a couple of very good saves, his opposite number Hubert Pearson was also being tested regularly, with forward Moore said to be making a difference in attack.
It was a close encounter as half time loomed, but an incident just before the break saw things turn in our favour.
An injury to West Brom’s Fred Morris meant that he was unable to return for the second half and the advantage of an extra man was pivotal for the Rokerites.
It may have been a slow-burner as Albion looked to spoil the flow, but no matter how bad things seemed to be, the Lads could always rely on Charlie Buchan. His form had not dipped in the previous outings and with twenty minutes left, he broke the deadlock.
Harry Martin had created the chance and from that point on, Sunderland stepped things up.
Buchan had two more attempts before Fred Cooke got his second of the season, and whilst Pearson was slightly suspect for that goal, he was unfortunate with the third – blocking a Cooke shot only for it to fall straight to Buchan.
Victory had been a long time coming, but Sunderland had bounced back impressively.
Saturday 11th December 1920
Football League Division One
Sunderland 3 (Buchan 70”, 85”, Cooke 75”)
West Bromwich Albion 0
Sunderland: Dempster; Hobson, Young; Parker, Sherwin, Mitton; Gilhespy, Buchan, Cooke, Moore, Martin.
Roker Park, attendance c. 15,000