After winning the FA Cup in 1973 Bob Stokoe was regrettably forced to remodel his Sunderland team well before he would have liked.
Two of the biggest losses he suffered were the instrumental pair of Dave Watson and Dennis Tueart, and whilst he had managed to fashion a very good promotion-winning squad with what he had, their return on this day proved to be a painful reminder of just how influential the duo could be.
By 1976 Watson and Tueart were with Tony Book’s Manchester City, who were reigning League Cup holders and a very tough proposition.
The visitors were gearing up for a serious title challenge and had just beaten Juventus in the UEFA Cup, but whilst the Citizens seemed to be on a roll the Lads were in desperate need of a kick start.
The side had returned full of hope to Division One a month earlier but were still without a league win at this stage and following three draws and two defeats had quickly fallen into the relegation zone, only things were about to get even worse.
Looking for a long while as if they could get something, Stokoe’s current charges went on to suffer a last-gasp defeat in which their chief tormentors were their one-time favourites.
Billy Hughes was Sunderland’s best performer on the day but despite his efforts, the team were unable to find a way past an imperious Watson, and with their attacking momentum grinding to a halt the closing stages saw the home side dropping back instead for what would still have been an encouraging draw.
It was at that juncture that Tueart sparked into life though, scoring the opener with less than ten minutes to go and then helping wrap things up by creating the second for Joe Royle.
His quick burst meant a 2-0 victory for City, but whilst clearly happy to have contributed, Tueart did admit afterward to it being a bittersweet moment and that the plans he had made for an evening back in his native north-east might have to be shelved so sorry was he at seeing his former club struggling.
Any feelings of being torn that were felt by Tueart were nothing in comparison to those of the Roker faithful, however, who could see that their side were giving their all but perhaps lacked that special something the first version of Stokoe’s Stars had enjoyed.
Supporters were still sticking with them, mind - a crowd of nearly 40,000 helping put the club fifth in an average league attendances table printed in the subsequent edition of the match day programme.
The club remained in that spot despite the actual league table confirming relegation at the end of 1976-77, with even a change of manager not being enough to keep the side up in the face of extenuating outside factors.
Relegation was to be another episode in the ever-changing story at Sunderland, where after losing to City, the same fans that had watched the disassembling of the cup winners commence were about to see two further pillars of that glorious group moving on.
Jimmy Montgomery made the final appearance of his record-making total less than a month later and then Stokoe himself stepped down two weeks after that.
His permanent replacement Jimmy Adamson would in time move on the remaining members but did go some way to finding a bit of the zhuzh that had been missing lately, and his young side, plus his December purchase Mick Docherty, who had been City’s right back on this day, nearly pulled off a great escape.
Demotion was only rubber stamped on the final day and in the face of some highly dubious activity elsewhere, but who knows – had a couple more points come along earlier in the season things may have panned out differently.
Saturday 18 September 1976
Football League Division One
Manchester City 2 (Tueart 81, Royle 86)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Clarke, Ashurst, Bolton; Rowell, Towers, Hughes, Train; Greenwood, Robson. Unused: Longhorn.
Roker Park, attendance 37, 395