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On This Day (3 December 1892): Sunderland overcome Forest swamps

Defending league champions Sunderland visited the Midlands twice in a week, and on this day in 1892, Tom Watson’s men took a huge step towards retaining their Division One title.

The Lads, as seen in Sunderland AFC: The Absolute Record

The previous Saturday had seen the Lads fall to a 3-1 defeat at Notts County, who were eventually relegated at the end of the season and whose cause was no doubt helped by the absence of star forwards Johnny Campbell and Jimmy Millar from the Sunderland ranks.

Next up though were Nottingham Forest, and this time things panned out very differently.

Whereas Miller was injured and wouldn’t be seen in action again until the new year, Campbell had been allowed time off to get married and was about to mark the occasion with a fine return to the starting line-up.

This was despite the match being played in awful conditions, with a throwaway line in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette the day before proving prophetic – having reported that the side had begun their journey and taken the 16:27 train out of the town that afternoon it ended the preview by mentioning that there had been a lot of rain at their destination point and that would prove to have a big influence on the action.

The gaffer, as seen in Sunderland AFC: The Official History

The wet weather had been around for the past few days apparently and had left the pitch at Forest’s Town Ground feeling very soft. This was Sunderland’s first visit to the stadium and with Monday’s edition of the newspaper later suggesting there was also sharp frost and sudden thaw before kick off it was not going to be easy. Strong winds made matters even worse, although in the first half the visitors made the most of it.

With passing across the surface difficult, Sunderland elected to keep the ball off the deck where possible – defender Tom Porteous at one point even booting the ball over the stands and out of the ground as he took no chances with one clearance. The incident seemingly prompted laughter from those in the stands, although the home fans had already seen their side go a goal behind thanks to James Gillespie’s finish after Davy and Jimmy Hannah had worked the ball into the box from the left.

Sunderland’s second came via the newlywed Campbell, who dribbled past John McPherson and held off the challenge of Archie Ritchie as he shot hard past William Brown. The Echo described it as a “brilliant individual effort”, and it more impressive given the mud bath that had now formed. The Red and Whites were able to change jerseys at half time at least, but in the second half there was a more obvious focus on defending the lead.

It was a pragmatic approach given the fact they had extended their advantage shortly before the break, when following a corner Hughie Wilson took a quick shot. Although they were three goals to the good Sunderland had already been forced to defend resolutely at times, with Ted Doig and Robert Smellie making some timely interventions, and with the wind now in their faces they looked to put men behind the ball and dig in.

Forest pushed and were able to create some pressure, but as the game wore on the scrappier things got. The Lads held firm and started finding holes to pick at, breaking away to score twice more and really underline their superiority – with the Echo obviously impressed with what they saw. “Superior skills, strength and energy of Sunderland being conspicuous all through” summed up their match report, although sadly neither that piece, nor any other sources, seemed to record the timings of the last two goals.

The man of the moment, as seen in Sunderland AFC: The Official History

There was further confusion surrounding the fourth strike, with the Echo attributing the move to Gillespie whilst other write ups suggested that John Harvey had done the heavy lifting. The likelihood is that a journalist who watched the team regularly will have been better placed to identify individuals than some sources that were less familiar would have been, but what everybody seemed to agree on was that it was Campbell who followed up after the initial counterattack and shot from out wide had been thwarted by Brown.

There was little doubt either when Campbell made it a week to remember and secured his hattrick, speeding past Peter McCracken and Adam Smith to score a “capital” fifth goal that rounded off an empathic return to form following the shock defeat seven days earlier. The points kept Sunderland second in the table too, with Watson going on to plot another Football League success in the coming weeks and months.

Thumping Forest was no flash in the pan. It was one of nine occasions in the league where the side scored five or more as they notched up a whopping 100 goals. Unbeaten at home and with Notts. one of only two sides not to have lost at least once to the Lads, Sunderland were clear winners with an 11 point margin over runners up Preston North End – who were next up in a top-of-the-table clash. All of that was for another day however, and what was important at this stage was drying off and making the return journey back to Wearside.


Saturday 3 December 1892

Football League Division One

Nottingham Forest 0

Sunderland 5 (Gillespie 12, Campbell 17, ?, ?, Wilson 40)

Sunderland: Doig; Porteous, Smellie; Wilson, Auld, Gibson; Gillespie, Harvey, Campbell, D. Hannah, J. Hannah.

Town Ground, attendance c. 8,000

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