Sunderland went into this season in Division Two with pressure on them.
After achieving the completely unexpected the previous May, the FA Cup champions were struggling in their promotion quest - not only was expectation high because of their cup exploits, but the first three teams were automatically getting promoted this season.
The pressure was on them from the start of this season. Every team in the division were raising their game against Bob Stokoe’s cup champions. They were the team everyone wanted to beat and it made their promotion quest a tough task.
This was not aided by the facts that all was not well behind the scenes with the cup-winning players wanting a pay rise and the added games that European football brought.
Furthermore, Richie Pitt suffered an early-season career-ending injury which meant that the starting cup-winning team only played three times together after their win in Wembley.
The 1973-74 season actually started reasonably well. Sunderland only lost once in the opening eight games, a 1-0 defeat to Luton. The team though, like many future Sunderland teams were hampered by too many drawn games.
After an absolutely dreadful December and January, Sunderland were langushing in 11th place in Division Two - and were it not for the efforts of Vic Halom, things were likely to have been a lot worse.
The fortnight before their game with Preston, a Halom inspired Sunderland finally got back to winning ways with 4-0 drubbing of Milwall at Roker Park. An attendance of 17,486 turned up to this game, showing that there were some fans unhappy with how things were going.
On this particular occasion, 21,129 fans turned up to Roker Park to see if Sunderland make it two wins from two. It appeared hope was somewhat restored on Wearside.
It was still a strong Sunderland team with many of the cup heroes such as Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield and Micky Horswill involved.
Rod Belfitt started at the heart of the defence in this game, and he gave the lads a half time lead. His signing was one of the bigger ones this season when he arrived from Everton for £65,000.
Having arrived at the club expecting to be a striker for the team, his modest return of four goals in 24 games is explained by the fact he ended up playing the majority of his games in defence. Quite successfully too.
As per usual, Sunderland struggled somewhat in the second half - Preston got back into the game and scored an equaliser. Also typical of this season was Vic Halom coming to the rescue. The Sunderland striker notched up 19 goals this season.
He scored the winner in this game to give the team a much-needed 2-1 win at Roker Park. The win only relieved a little pressure off the team leaving them 10th in the table.
In the context of the season, this was one of Sunderland’s better runs of form.
This win was sandwiched between the aforementioned one against Milwall and another one against Sheffield Wednesday the week after. Another game where Vic Halom scored, may I add.
It was one of the fewer positive times of this season. The team never rose above fifth after the opening month. In the end, promotion was missed by two points. A controversial late-season defeat to Carlisle spelled the end of promotion hopes, leaving fans and the club alike deflated after such a previous high the season before.
Team: Montgomery, Malone, Watson, Kerr, Hughes, Halom, Porterfield, Tueart, Bolton, Horswill, Belfitt. Subs: Young.