After making his Sunderland debut in 1960 Nick Sharkey had to wait nearly three years for a proper run in the side, but when his chance did come boy did he take it. Brought into the team following what would prove to be a career-ending injury to Brian Clough, he quickly got onto the goal trail and by the end of the following season had become a key figure in the club’s first-ever promotion.
Goals in the FA Cup against Preston North End and Gravesend & Northfleet, and in the League Cup against Aston Villa suggested that Sharkey deserved his chance on merit and not just the misfortune of others, but it was in the league against Norwich City on this day in 1963 that his poaching instincts really came to the fore. The two teams had already played out a high-scoring game earlier in the season and with Sunderland keen to avenge their 4-2 defeat the Scot was just the man to do it.
With half an hour gone the game was still goalless, and yet by the time the first half had ended Sharkey had scored a hat-trick. His first came from a powerful shot after Johnny Crossan and George Mulhall had worked an opening, whilst the second was the result of some clever movement to lose his marker and get onto a pass from Jimmy McNab. The third goal followed soon after and was scored with a brave diving header that put Sunderland firmly in command at the break.
Shell shocked Norwich had little answer and midway through the second half they conceded another flurry of goals. This was the era of Charlie Hurley’s ground-breaking forays into the opposition box for attacking corners, and with him occupying several defenders Stan Anderson and Crossan were able to get onto balls swung in by Mulhall and Jimmy Davison respectively. There was further joy for Sharkey too, who in between those goals got another one for his tally after Hurley had knocked forward a Davison set-piece and he was able to flick it in.
A late consolation for the visitors from Jimmy Hill threatened to take some of the shine off things, but it was only right that Sharkey would round off the evening’s scoring just seconds later. The best strikers seem to know exactly where the net is and will invariably be in the right place at the right time – that was evidenced when he scored his fourth despite having his back to goal and then when he scored his fifth after goalkeeper Sandy Kennon had parried a Mulhall shot and he tapped home.
The five-goal haul puts Sharkey joint top with Jimmy Millar, Charlie Buchan, and Bobby Gurney for most scored in a single game for the club and he remains the most recent person to have achieved the feat.
The final score of 7-1 also boosted hopes of promotion, but despite finishing the season as the second-highest scorers in the division Sunderland still missed out on goal average. When the club did return to the top-flight in 1964-65 Sharkey was their top scorer though, having first hit top form today in 1963.
Sunderland 7 (Sharkey 35, 40, 44, 60 & 86, Anderson 57, Crossan 64)
Norwich City 1 (Hill 85)
Wednesday 20 March 1963
Football League Division Two
Sunderland: Montgomery; Nelson, Hurley, McNab, Ashurst; Davison, Anderson, Herd, Mulhall; Sharkey, Crossan.
Roker Park, attendance 42, 393