With only one victory in the previous eight games and promotion faltering in a tight race with Chelsea, Stoke, Middlesborough, Leeds, Huddersfield and Newcastle, Sunderland rattled off two good wins at Swansea and home to Southampton to get the promotion bandwagon moving again.
Next up was a difficult game at Luton. Destined for the drop at the end of the season they were nobody’s mugs at home and with a young Welsh centre forward, Ron Davies who despite relegation would score twenty-one goals that term, the points were not assured as Sunderland went into this game.
Despite spending £22,250 on Andy Kerr from Kilmarnock as a replacement for the injured Brian Clough, manager Alan Brown bought young Dominic Sharkey back into the attack and dropped Kerr.
In the crowd that night was the Chelsea team that was due to face Sunderland that coming weekend in what was seen as a promotion decider. The Black Cats sparkling display must have left their manager Tommy Docherty wondering what he would need to do to win the required points at Roker.
With a rampant George Herd to the fore, (he was described in one press report as “here, there and everywhere”) Sunderland were on the front foot from the kickoff. With Charlie Hurley just about winning his duel with the young rising star Ron Davies, as well as full-backs Nelson and Ashurst having excellent games, Sunderland gave little away in defence. On 22 minutes Sharkey scored with a great header, it was a lead well deserved.
Crossan and Hurley missed good opportunities to further the lead and Montgomery denied Luton a leveller just before half-time. Sunderland had played scintillating football and some Roker fans could have been concerned that they should have been even further ahead at the break.
The second half resumed, and Sunderland picked up where they had left off, scoring a second goal very quickly with a rasping shot from George “bullet” Mulhall. He went close again with another piledriver, before Sharkey scored a third for Sunderland and his second on the night, to have thoroughly justified his selection.
The third goal had an element of farce about it as the home centre half Kelly was caught napping, tying his bootlace a yard from his goal line and subsequently playing on-side the Sunderland attack. Nonetheless, it was a sublime pass from Anderson to set Sharkey up, and the youngster did not waste the opportunity driving forward with characteristic pace and smashing the ball past and overworked Baynham in the Luton goal.
Sunderland had set themselves up well for their final game of the season against Chelsea at Roker. They must have felt in the driving seat and were certainly considered overwhelming favourites for the second promotion spot behind Stoke, all they needed to do was avoid defeat.
Sadly, it was not to be in front of 48,000 fans Chelsea scored the only goal of a dour attritional game. The Chelsea goal was attributed to Tommy Harmer when a Bobby Tambling corner across the box hit him in his “middle wicket” and went in at the far post.
Chelsea still had work to do, requiring a victory at Portsmouth which they achieved winning 7-0, leaving us defeated and deflated at the final hurdle. Promotion had looked odds on at the end of the game at Kenilworth Road after a cracking performance, but we did not have to wait too long as season 63/64 saw us go up in some style behind Don Revie’s emerging Leeds Utd team.
Sunderland – Montgomery; Nelson; Ashurst; Hurley; Anderson; McNab; Herd; Davison; Crossan; Sharkey; Mulhall.
Score - Luton 0 - Sunderland 3 (Sharkey 2 & Mulhall)