The early Sunderland v Newcastle United league clashes were often a Yuletide fixture, and in 1899 and 1903 the Lads provided their fans with Christmas bonuses in the form of enjoyable derby day wins.
Both of those victories came on Tyneside, the second of which was played on Boxing Day. Christmas Eve was to be the date for the 1904 festive match though, and now it was the Wearsiders that were inviting the neighbours over.
Sunderland had not yet beaten Newcastle on home soil in a league match at this point, but that was about to change, and so we can now mark the 118th anniversary of a maiden Roker Park win over the old enemy.
The Magpies were sitting at the top of the Division One table when they set off for Wearside and would eventually win the league in 1904-05, but on this occasion, they were second best from the off. With less than a minute played Sunderland were ahead. While the visitors later drew level, they were never really able to cope with a rampant front line of Billy Hogg, Arthur Bridgett, Alf Common, Jimmy Gemmell and Harry Buckle.
Although their interplay and movement was a joy to watch, the opener came from a route one set piece. Attacking straight from kick-off, Sunderland quickly won a free kick that was sent into the box by Ephraim ‘Dusty’ Rhodes and headed in by Dicky Jackson under pressure. The reply came when Peter McWilliam’s long-range effort from over by the Main Stand slipped past Ike Webb, but the Rokerites soon caught their opponents cold again and retook the lead almost immediately.
It was Buckle that scored who, after playing a lovely through ball to set up Hogg, was on hand to put away the rebound after Jimmy Lawrence had saved. A frantic spell was then rounded off when Bill Appleyard spurned the chance of a second equaliser for Newcastle, sending a penalty wide after they had also pushed forward straight from the restart.
After dominating possession and creating most of the chances Sunderland may have struggled to get themselves going again had they been pegged back once more, but they were instead able to continue dictating the tempo before making sure of the points with an hour gone.
The winner came from another dead ball, and after a corner had caused some confusion in the Newcastle defence Jackson was able to blast in his second.
That wrapped up the Christmas scoring, but it was not for the want of trying.
Lawrence produced a series of saves as Sunderland attacked and United attempted to save some face, but even the most ardent of away supporters in the crowd would have been forced to acknowledge that they had witnessed a comfortable victory for the home team.
It was a much-needed boost for the Lads too, who had lost their previous three matches and were in the midst of an ongoing saga about alleged illegal payments.
The team was being overseen by caretaker boss Fred Dale, who had captained the club prior to it joining the league and had been put in temporary charge following the suspension of Alex Mackie.
The manager had been implicated in claims made by former defender Andy McCombie that he had been improperly gifted money by Sunderland officials. Just to up the ante, the full-back was now turning out for Newcastle. His presence back on Wearside meant this derby was even more highly charged than usual, and some sources attribute the first goal to the Scot after he’d gone up with Jackson to challenge for Rhodes’ cross.
The current consensus however was that it wasn’t an own goal, with Teessider Jackson thought to have made the big impact in the Wear-Tyne clash and getting things rolling in a 3-1 success that was repeated later in the season.
The return was once again played in the build-up to a religious holiday, taking place the day before Easter Sunday – a part of the year when, like Christmas, you might have to (through gritted teeth) mix with or have round people you wouldn’t usually choose to spend time with.
At least on this day in 1904 the guests were sent on their way away empty-handed.
Saturday 24 December 1904
Football League Division One
Sunderland 3 (Jackson 1, 62, Buckle 30)
Newcastle United 1 (McWilliam 29)
Sunderland: Webb; Rhodes, Watson; Farquhar, Fullarton, Jackson; Hogg, Bridgett, Common, Gemmell, Buckle.
Roker Park, attendance c. 34,000
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