Middlesbrough pulled off a league double over Sunderland in 1938/1939, but it was a different story in the FA Cup eighty four years ago today.
A comfortable home win over Plymouth Argyle two weeks earlier had seen the Lads through to the fourth round, and although we were handed an away tie, the amount of travelling involved was minimal.
The fixture was popular with home supporters too, and upon their arrival on Teesside, Sunderland ran out at a packed Ayresome Park that was housing a then-record attendance.
Gate receipts totalled £3,997, and the hotly-anticipated game certainly managed to meet expectations, albeit most of the crowd were left deeply disappointed by the final score.
In a hard-fought yet notably good natured tussle, both sides matched each other for effort on a rain-affected pitch. There were chances at both ends but it was the visitors who were more clinical in front of goal.
However, things might’ve been different had Black Cats’ centre-half Alec Lockie not been in such good form.
He was largely able to contain a very lively Micky Fenton, with the one-time England cap struggling to get any change out of a well-organised defence. Meanwhile, Sunderland were being restricted to half-chances only, but that was all Raich Carter needed to give us the lead.
Arthur Housam won possession on the halfway line and drove forward before pushing the ball to his captain, who evaded a challenge before his low shot went in off the post. It was an accurate finish from a tight angle, and a perfect example of why he’s still considered a club legend to this day.
Carter’s finest moment in red and white had arguably come two years earlier when we won the competition, and two of his teammates on that occasion were about to make an impact as they attempted to reach Wembley once more.
Goalkeeper Johnny Mapson had to stay resolute amid a flurry of Middlesbrough corners and after emerging from that spell of pressure, we were able to tighten our grip.
Eddie Burbanks, who, like Carter, had scored against Preston North End in the 1937 FA Cup final, lobbed an inviting ball through to John Smeaton and although he was forced wide after a classy first touch, he tucked away another smart finish to make it 2-0.
That cushion meant the Lads could afford to slow things down in the second half and play ‘keep-ball’.
Cliff Chadwick missed a good opening for the hosts but Mapson was otherwise calm and collected, and it needed a breathtaking stop from Dave Cumming to deny Burbanks a goal in the closing stages as we looked to add the gloss.
However, the hard work was done and we fully deserved to go through to the next round, where Blackburn Rovers awaited Johnny Cochrane’s men. That tie ended up being a bit of a saga, with the Division Two champions-in-waiting progressing via a last-minute winner in extra time of a second replay.
The Lads had been forced to play most of the game with ten men after an X-rated tackle on the great Bobby Gurney- the other man to score as Preston were beaten 3-1- who’d already been struggling with injuries and wouldn’t play competitively for the Lads again.
It was a sad end to a fabulous Roker career, and yet just a month previously, things had been looking good. A strong performance at Middlesbrough on this day had hinted at another cup run, and with the two clubs due to clash tomorrow, this classic encounter will hopefully be emulated.
Saturday 21st January 1939
FA Cup 4th Round
Sunderland 2 (Carter 26’, Smeaton 44’)
Sunderland: Mapson; Gorman, Hall; Housam, Lockie, Hastings; Duns, Carter, Thompson, Smeaton, Burbanks.