Middlesbrough came into the Wear-Tees derby on this day in 1977 in good form, and with one of the best defensive records in Division One.
Sunderland meanwhile were propping up the table and had only just broken a 13 game winless streak with a narrow victory against Bristol City, yet it was the home supporters that were celebrating come full time.
That was because they had just witnessed an impressive 4-0 win entirely out of keeping with what had gone on so far during 1976-77.
The team had struggled upon their return to the top-flight and that win over Bristol City had only been their fourth success of the campaign, but since arriving in November new manager Jimmy Adamson had started making sweeping changes and now they were starting to tell.
Famously, Adamson gave opportunities to the supremely talented youth trio of Shaun Elliott, Kevin Arnott and Gary Rowell and whilst the latter two both scored against Middlesbrough it was Elliott that took centre stage.
Playing in front of the back four in the first half he provided a brilliant screen for the defence and instigated several forward moves, and when asked to slot in at centre back alongside Jackie Ashurst following the half time break, he continued in similar vein.
The change was brought about due to Jeff Clarke’s withdrawal with a knee problem.
He had picked up an injury in the early stages of the game whilst bombing forward and although he somehow managed to make it to the break it proved to be that serious he wouldn’t be seen in action again until the following season.
The incident was one of many in the opening phases of the game; in typical derby style it had started at a breathless pace, with visiting goalkeeper Pat Cuff also needing attention following a separate clash and Alf Wood being booked for a wild tackle on Elliott.
Playing towards the Fulwell End and facing a stiff breeze, Sunderland were able to take the sting out of things however and began playing the game at their pace. They had already created the better chances by the time Bob Lee put them ahead and after that they were able to assume full control. Mel Holden’s powerful second half shot doubled the advantage and late goals from Arnott and Rowell rounded the afternoon off nicely.
Jack Charlton admitted afterwards that going into the game he had fully expected to win, and reports suggested that Middlesbrough’s players left Roker Park looking visibly bemused by what had just happened. There was no confusion on Adamson’s part though, he said during his post-match debrief to the press that attitude had played a big part in things and with Sunderland coming out on top in those early exchanges that certainly seemed to be the case.
Holden’s goal was his second in two games, having scored at a similar point in the Bristol City match a week before, but prior to that nobody had scored for Sunderland in over a month during a desperate run of just two goals in 12 games. The four that were put past Middlesbrough opened the floodgates however and in the next two leagues games the Lads scored 12 more.
It was a bizarre period and it came on the back of the sad news of Vice President Stan Ritson OBE’s death, who had passed away in the days leading up to the Middlesbrough fixture. A highley renowned surgeon, he had joined the board in 1941 and was chairman of the club between 1958 and 1960. Flags outside the Main Stand were at half-mast therefore, with the players wearing black armbands and giving him the perfect send off.
Saturday 19 February 1977
Football League Division One
Sunderland 4 (Lee 28, Holden 56, Arnott 81, Rowell 86)
Sunderland: Siddall; Docherty, Clarke (Brown 46), Ashurst, Bolton; Kerr, Elliott, Arnott, Rowell; Holden, Lee.
Roker Park, attendance 32, 205