West Bromwich Albion were on Wearside on this day over 130 years ago, but despite splashing out on some rather plush accommodation, it still proved to be a miserable trip for the Baggies.
Sunderland’s latest opponents put themselves up the night before the game in the Queen’s Hotel on Fawcett Street, the same venue that just a couple of months earlier had seen the Lads formally presented with the championship trophy after they had won the Football League for the first time in 1891-92. Tom Watson’s great side were desperate to keep hold of it too, and had started the new campaign in blistering form.
Notable victories over Accrington (twice), Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Stoke and Everton had increased hopes of retaining the crown, and while the goals had been flying in with 30 scored in just seven league matches, West Brom were expected to put up a strong fight. They were, after all, the reigning FA Cup holders, this was to be a clash of the two most recent winners of major silverware in England – and at first it seemed as if it was the visitors that enjoyed the better night’s sleep ahead of the fixture.
When Hughie Wilson put through his own net with just seconds gone, it astonished not just him but everybody else who was watching on too. The ball had somehow gone in before anybody had really realised what had happened, but the fact they’d conceded an own goal suggested that when at their best, Sunderland’s biggest threat was themselves. Few teams could match them when in top gear, not even one that had looked so impressive when making light work of Villa at the Kennington Oval in the cup final earlier in the year. And once in their stride, the Lads were too much for Albion to cope with.
Playing on a soft Newcastle Road pitch, they had won the toss and elected to play up the field ‘from the road end’ in the first half. Heavy rain over the course of the morning had impacted the surface, but by kick off the skies had lightened and there was nothing more than a slight breeze to contend with. The opener had been an unexpected setback, but Sunderland were in no mood to dwell and quickly set about their reply.
Jimmy Hannah had a possible equaliser ruled out for offside, but with the Throstles unable to get out of their own half the leveller soon came, and it was a spectacular strike – Wilson atoning for his early slip with a rasping shot that was said to have been from near his own half. It was clearly worth noting in the subsequent match reports, but sadly, the timing and some of the finer details of the avalanche that followed were not fully recorded.
Journalists were probably becoming so blasé about Sunderland goals that they felt able to brush over the more routine offerings in their main pieces, but it is known that they went in at the break 2-1 up after Joe Reader had saved a Hannah attempt and the rebound fell for Johnny Campbell to snap up. Shots continued to rain in on West Brom in the second half, with Jamie Millar and Campbell again both bagging.
With the game now over as a contest, the away team lost all sense of discipline. They gave away several free kicks due to poorly timed challenges, and from one such set piece, Robert Smellie played in a wicked delivery to prompt a spell of pinball in the penalty area that was completed when Millar forced in his second. Less than impressed by the now aggressive tactics being employed by their guests, the Lads decided not to settle at 5-1; their superior fitness levels meaning they could continue swarming a beleaguered Reader.
It felt at points as if Watson’s men were toying with the opposition before really going for the kill in the final ten minutes. Millar completed his hat trick between goals from Will Gibson and John Scott, with the comprehensive victory meaning Sunderland were the only Division One team yet to be beaten thus far. It also brought them within a point of leaders Preston North End at the top of Division One, but crucially with a game in hand, and having just gubbed a side that were now 5th in the table, it was clear that even the stronger clubs were going to have a job to quell Sunderland’s charge.
Saturday 22 October 1892
Football League Division One
Sunderland 8 (Wilson, Campbell, Millar, Campbell, Millar, Gibson, Millar, Scott)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Wilson o.g.)
Sunderland: Doig; Porteous, Smellie; Wilson, Auld, Gibson; Hannah, Harvie, Campbell, Millar, Scott.
Newcastle Road, attendance c. 8,000