In 1974-75 the North East and Cumbria region had three clubs in Division One.
Middlesbrough and Carlisle United had both joined Newcastle United in the top-flight having won promotion at the end of the previous campaign - but whilst second-tier Sunderland had been left behind, they were still given a chance to pit their wits against their neighbours thanks to the Texaco Cup.
Group Four of that season’s competition brought all four teams together, and whilst the Lads were unable to progress to the knockout stages Bob Stokoe’s side still managed to give a good account of themselves.
Progress was not seen as the be-all and end-all anyway, and despite seeing his side lose at home to Middlesbrough on this day in 1974 the Sunderland boss was still happy with how things were shaping up ahead of their upcoming league fixtures.
Having already witnessed an encouraging Wear-Tyne derby victory over the weekend, Stokoe spoke to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s Len Hetherington the morning after a Wear -Tees iteration that had been decided by an early David Armstrong goal.
Described as being in a buoyant mood, he was quoted as follows;
I’m not disappointed at all…
We didn’t get the breaks last night and if you don’t get the breaks, you don’t get the results. But what matters in these pre-season games is the attitude of the players and I’m more than satisfied on that point. The players have shown in both games that they want to be involved, and they kept going right to the death last night.
It seems like a fair assessment based on Hetherington’s match report.
Armstrong, a Sunderland fan growing up but very much an Ayresome Park favourite by then, had scored the 12th minute but it was Sunderland that otherwise dominated.
New arrival Pop Robson was said to be in fine form and the hosts were lucky to stay ahead – Billy Hughes going agonisingly close and Bobby Kerr seeing an effort cleared off the line by Frank Spraggon.
Those were just two of several good openings created by the Rokerites, who as well as Robson has also brought in Stan Ternent, Tom Finney and Bob Moncur during the close season – for more information on their careers, and the other stories around Roker prior to the Newcastle game, see Rich Speight’s excellent match piece from earlier this week: On This Day (3 August 1974) - Kerr back in from the cold as Sunderland beat Newcastle in ILB Competition - Roker Report (sbnation.com).
Although Finney did not feature against Middlesbrough, both Moncur and Ternent did – with Moncur, who had scored the winning goal as Newcastle won the final of the previous Texaco Cup, looking particularly strong.
Ternent meanwhile, who like Armstrong had grown up following Sunderland, was making the second of his two competitive first-team appearances having been brought in primarily to work in a mentoring role.
The 1-0 defeat still left a chance of progression in the tournament, but a goalless draw at Brunton Park later in the week put paid to that idea.
All three of their games had attracted fair-sized crowds, however, and those watching had seen Sunderland give their loftier opponents decent matches. There was some solace to be found in the final group placings too, with the Lads finishing above Middlesbrough even though they’d been beaten by them.
Better still, Stokoe’s men continued their promising start with comfortable victories in their first two league fixtures.
It did not translate into promotion sadly, but come the end of the season Sunderland would at least be on an equal footing with Carlisle once more after the Cumbrians’ Division One sojourn lasted just a year.
Parity with Newcastle and Middlesbrough would take a little longer to arrive but with both Moncur and Robson having key roles would eventually be achieved in 1976, along with the second division title.
Tuesday 6 August 1974
Texaco Cup Group Four
Middlesbrough 1 (Armstrong)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Watson, Moncur, Guthrie; Kerr, Ternent (Belfitt), Towers, Hughes; Halom, Robson. Unused: Swinburne
Roker Park, attendance 22,828