Whenever you appoint a new manager, you’re looking for that immediate ‘bounce’. A string of results that gets everything back on an even keel, gives the new manager some breathing space and enables the players and crowd relax.
For Sunderland under Bob Stokoe, it was more of a slow burn than an immediate transformation.
Brown’s 14 league games had seen the lads win only three times, and Elliott’s four games in temporary charge had chalked up just two points. Sunderland were struggling in 19th place, and in need of a boost.
Stokoe’s first game, a home fixture against future Sunderland manager Jimmy Adamson’s Burnley had ended in defeat (incidentally, Burnley’s team also included Mick Docherty, Colin Waldron, Doug Collins and Leighton James, who’d all represent the lads too), while another home game, against Preston, ended in a goalless draw.
In between those two games at Roker was an away win over Portsmouth – two late goals turning a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 win, which gave the club a much-needed boost.
The game against Preston on 16 December had been the last of the year. A Roker Park flu epidemic had meant the club had requested the postponement of its league fixtures either side of Christmas, and by the time enough players had recovered three weeks had passed, and Brighton and Hove Albion rolled into town.
Stokoe had used the break in fixtures to good effect and had spent a lot of time identifying potential new recruits. He hadn’t needed to look too far for his first couple of signings – in fact, he’d made the most of his relationship with his former Newcastle teammate and now the club’s manager, Joe Harvey, to secure his first couple of additions.
Twenty-six-year-old David Young, who could play at the back or in midfield, had joined Sunderland after spending nine years at St James, making just 43 appearances, while his teammate, Ron Guthrie, was also due to change the colour of his stripes – however, his move had been held up by the defender catching the flu.
Another player strongly linked with the club was Derby’s John O’Hare, who’d started his career at Roker Park before being sold to Derby in 1967. O’Hare, who had played a hugely influential role in Brian Clough’s Derby success story, but was top of Stokoe’s list to strengthen Sunderland’s attack. The transfer fee – proposed to be around £50,000 was a stumbling block that would ultimately prove insurmountable. Manchester United’s Wyn Davies – who’d played around 200 times for Newcastle – was also linked, however, at the ripe old age of 30 was thought to be too old to warrant a move.
Some of Sunderland’s more highly rated players were attracting interest from other clubs, too; Dave Watson being new Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty’s primary target. Watson had quickly attracted interest from top-flight clubs including United, Liverpool and Everton since his switch from attack to defence.
As Sunderland prepared to take to the field for the first time in almost three weeks in a home game against a newly promoted Brighton team that was struggling in the second tier, new signing Young was looking forward to kickstarting his career – and was rather prophetic when it came to what might happen on his debut.
I intend to make this my first and last move.
I am 26 now and have maybe five or six years left on the playing side. My one big hope is that I use them all to play for this club.
I have known all along that this is the one I had to be right with. I wasn’t just prepared to gon anywhere. It had to be right.
I am pleased I have ended up at Roker. It suits me down to the ground.
What I also hope is that both me and the team as a whole get off to a good start.
Actually, I fancy we will put a few past Brighton, maybe four.
And put four past Brighton we did.
While Sunderland had been struggling in Division Two, so too had promoted Brighton, who were described as ‘dreadful’ in some of the kinder match reports.
The first goal came after a 17-year-old full back Joe Bolton ‘almost decapitated’ the Brighton keeper with a ferocious drive; Billy Hughes followed in to open the scoring in the ninth minute. Dennis Tueart added a second on the stroke of half time, taking advantage after a mistake by the Brighton defence had let in Hughes.
It was Hughes who headed in the third from a chipped ball by Bobby Kerr, while Bolton sealed the win in style, firing in from fully 35 yards with his right foot.
After the game, Stokoe was effusive in his praise for Bolton, who was only playing due to Keith Coleman suffering – like Guthrie – from the flu.
Where has this boy been hiding since I came here? What a tremendous prospect. I suppose that it is because he is so quiet that I haven’t been struck by his ability.
The victory helped give the players and fans – and Stokoe – that little bit of reassurance that’s always needed when results haven’t been too good. And, with a little more spring in their step, the squad turned their attention to the next game: an FA Cup 3rd Round fixture at Notts County...