Sunderland arrived at this game in seventh place in a tight at the top first division and had already beaten the reigning champions Manchester United at Old Trafford as well as this seasons contenders Arsenal (the eventual champions) West Brom and Chelsea. With Trevor Ford looking like he was in the fettle for another good season in front of goal and Shackleton, Bingham and Tommy Wright looking extremely lively in the forward department most Sunderland fans were anticipating a good tilt at the title.
Unfortunately, a Wales v Scotland international scheduled for this same day robbed us of Welshman Trevor Ford and two Scots in cultured centre-half George Aitken and flying left winger Tommy Wright. Added to that, injuries to regular half back Arthur Wright and full back Jack Hedley saw a changed team from our previous weeks home victory against high flying West Brom.
In for Ford came Dickie Davis, who would rack up 79 goals in 154 appearances for the Lads but probably preferred playing inside forward. Willie Watson (a double cricket and football internationalist) recovered from a minor knock to resume his place in the half back line alongside imposing team captain and local lad Fred Hall. At left half a debut was given to a young eighteen-year-old, Albert Snell. The young Yorkshire lad certainly experienced a baptism of fire and although he only played one other league game that season and nine games in total for the Black Cats over a three-year period, he let nobody down in this rough, “full on” derby. The ball playing experienced full back Arthur Hudgell stepped in for Jack Headley to play only his third game of the season.
Middlesborough had the “Golden Boy” Wilf Mannion at inside forward and even though he was coming toward the latter stages of his career, he was a player to respect. Boro had not lost any players to the international game and came into the fixture at virtually full strength.
A good crowd of 38,305 had crammed into Ayresome Park and there were many Sunderland fans amongst them adding to the noise as the game kicked off.
Despite the array of talent on the paddock, what emerged was a typical slog of a derby, with no shortage of effort and a meaty challenge or ten! Whilst Boro shaded the possession, Sunderland had the skill and guile that managed to shine above the battle.
If the spectacle sounds a bit of a slog, it was not helped by a referee solidly panned in the press for his over-fussy whistling and inconsistency throughout the ninety minutes (I guess this is not a new problem!).
Middlesborough had a couple of good chances in the first half as Delapenha and Spuhler fluffed their lines in front of goal. For Sunderland Dickie Davis sent a flying header straight at the startled Ugolini in the Boro goal, after good work by Shackleton and Reynolds. 0-0 at half time and probably just about a fair score to this point.
The second half continued much as the first had finished, was this a derby game with 0-0 written all over it? Delapenha missed a very good chance to put Boro in front, then on seventy-two minutes the breakthrough. A long-range pass from his own half by Washington lad Harry Kirtley was glided majestically into the path of Billy Bingham. The Northern Ireland international right winger took the ball in his stride and cut inside to blast a shot which Ugolini in the Boro goal did well to parry. The rebound fell a little awkwardly to Dickie Davis on the six-yard box, but he wasted no time in rippling the back of the net to send Sunderland into the lead.
Middlesborough responded almost immediately launching a series of attacks that within two minutes saw them level the game. Ex-Sunderland player Spuhler drifted right with the ball and managed to beat Hall (who otherwise hardly put a foot wrong). He sent over a pinpoint cross to McCrae standing unmarked at the far post, who had the simplest of tasks to thrash the ball past Threadgold into the back of the net.
Middlesborough were now pushing for the winner, but the half-back line of Watson, Hall, and Snell, who had recovered from a shaky start held firm. The counter attack also looked to be in play as Shackleton, Bingham and Reynolds looked lively and Kirtley was at his illusive and cleverest in this period.
On eighty-five minutes a quick throw-in from Shackleton to Reynolds saw the greyhound breeder/racer speed away to the bye-line and whip a cross over Ugolini to Bingham lurking with intent at the far side of the six-yard box. Bingham, who was not just a speedy dynamic winger but clever with it too, completely wrong-footed the Boro defence and goalkeeper by heading the ball back across the box to the unmarked Kirtley, who picked his spot and fired home.
Sunderland saw the remainder of the game out to send their fans home happy as their team were now a clear fourth in the table. Middlesborough had proved stiff opposition but in Hall, Kirtley and Watson Sunderland had the three best performers in this game.
This season proved to be a bit disappointing given the start made and early season performances. Injuries saw Watson, Hudgell, Shackleton and Bingham missing for crucial games in the last third of the season, and Ford absent for eight games as the season petered out for the Lads and they finished in ninth place. They only lost one game at home all season in the league but drew nine. Also, away from home they leaked fifty-five goals and lost thirteen games, having started the season with away victories at Arsenal, Manchester United and Man City as well as a 2-2 draw at Newcastle and this victory at Ayresome Park.
In a season that saw the last of the “old guard” in Johnny Mapson play his final game and the bright young prospect of Stan Anderson make his debut, it was a disappointing finale. But the appetite for football at Roker Park was still there, with regular gates of over 40,000 and 50,000 gates for the big games, 34,000 turned up on a cold rainy midweek night a couple of weeks before Christmas to see the first floodlit match at Roker Park against Dundee as Sunderland ran out 5-3 winners and Len Shackleton scoring the first “floodlit goal”.
League Division One - 18/10/1952
Middlesborough 1 - 2 Sunderland
Ayresome Park - Attendance 38,305
Middlesborough – Ugolini, Robinson, Corbett, Bell, Blenkinsopp, Gordon, Delapenha, Mannion, Spuhler, McCrae (1), Fitzsimons
Sunderland – Threadgold, Stelling, Hudgell, Watson, Hall, Snell, Bingham, Kirtley (1), Davis (1), Shackleton, Reynolds