Sunderland’s 1975-76 Division Two title win was built on the back of an excellent home record. Only two teams, Bristol Rovers and Bristol City, took points away from Wearside in the league, and whilst there were defeats in the Anglo Scottish Cup and the FA Cup they were not enough to derail the promotion push.
46 years ago today Southampton were the latest side to try their luck at Roker Park and whilst they were amongst the leading pack themselves, their attention had been drawn elsewhere.
Earlier in the month and on the same day Sunderland were being knocked out by Crystal Palace in one of those rare home defeats the Saints had won at Bradford City, and the pair were now due to meet in a FA Cup semi-final seven days later.
With Malcolm Allison’s team having already done a number on the Rokerites, Southampton knew they would have to be on their guard, and with one eye on that tie already perhaps they failed to get going in this league clash.
That said, even if Southampton had been fully focused, they may have still struggled against a Sunderland side with a point to prove.
Form since their cup exit had been patchy and with the crowd having started to show signs of turning in their previous match against Bristol City four days earlier, Bob Stokoe’s men knew they needed to respond. A late Mel Holden equaliser against the Robins had preserved the unbeaten home league record, but the game had been a tough watch and Holden himself had taken some stick after being somewhat unfairly singled out.
In order to put all that behind them, Sunderland started with a high tempo, helped by the return from injury of Tony Towers who had been out with a fractured cheekbone. The captain came into the starting XI in place of Billy Hughes who was struggling with a heavily bruised foot, but the rest of the forward line were able to make up for it and they didn’t let up even after a made to measure chip from Roy Greenwood had given them an early lead.
Greenwood had arrived on Wearside two months earlier and this was his first goal for the club; he then followed it up after the break with his second, when after collecting a delicious Bobby Kerr pass he powered forward, held off Jim Steele and eased delicately past Ian Turner in the Southampton goal to make it 2-0. It was a quality brace, and the former Hull City winger backed that up by having a hand in the final goal too.
Kerr was involved again as well, hitting a nice right wing cross that was flicked on by Greenwood and headed in by Holden. Kerr had responded well to being dropped from the side in February, and it was another moment of redemption too for striker Holden who could now boast a record of 7 goals in 13 league games and was receiving a noticeably more positive response from the terraces.
Strong winds in the later stages did little to help Southampton’s cause, nor did referee Jack Wrennall’s decision not to award a penalty for some pretty clear pulling of Mick Channon’s shirt by an otherwise impressive Jackie Ashurst.
Sunderland were good value for their 15th league win at home however and were now back on track – they didn’t lose again until after promotion had been sealed, whilst for their part Southampton not only got past Palace but then went on to win the FA Cup.
Their 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the final meant that boss Lawrie McMenemy had emulated Stokoe’s achievement of guiding a second-tier side to the trophy.
Coincidentally, Stokoe would return to the Sunderland hot seat when McMenemy’s own occupation of it over a decade later came to a messy end, and the comfortable win the Messiah had enjoyed on this day in 1976 would not be the last time the supposed Big Fella would come unstuck at Roker.
Saturday 27 March 1976
Football League Division Two
Sunderland 3 (Greenwood 16, 57 Holden 62)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Ashurst, Moncur, Bolton; Kerr, Towers, Train, Greenwood; Holden, Robson. Unused: Rowell.
Roker Park: Attendance 34,946