Since first getting promoted back into the top flight in 1964, Sunderland’s return to Division One had been a bit of a slog. There were some brief highlights though, and wins on this date 12 months apart were certainly very welcome. 2-1 victories were achieved on both occasions, and the parallels didn’t end there – the wins coming against sides whose name started with the letter S and who also happened to be partial to red and white stripes!
1966 Stoke City
Dreadful form at the start of 1966-67 had left the Lads just above the drop zone, whilst visitors Stoke sat at the top of the table. It would take a monumental effort to overcome the Potters, for whom future Roker arrival Calvin Palmer featured in defence, but that is exactly what the Roker faithful got and they were in full voice as they saw their side pull out all the stops to try and kick start their campaign.
The task had seemed even harder ahead of kick off with regular starter Jimmy McNab being forced to drop out with tonsillitis. His absence did open the door for George Kinnell to make his debut however, and amidst some pretty frantic stuff it was the new boy that helped calm his side down and pull things together.
Sunderland’s long ball tactics did not always hit the mark, but Kinnell’s attempts at maintaining possession looked to be the better approach and slowly but surely the home side started gaining some momentum. The game then exploded in the final half an hour, with two close range finishes from John O’Hare and Neil Martin after the hour mark putting Sunderland ahead.
Their control ebbed away almost as quickly as it came though, with O’Hare being sent off following a tangle with Alan Philpott moments before Dennis Viollet reduced the arrears. A tense final ten minutes followed, with Jimmy Montgomery seeing his team over the line with two superb last gasp stops.
It was an impressive result against the high flyers and only the third win of the season, but it did prompt a mini upturn. Next up was a trip to Newcastle United – but more on that is to follow on Sunday, so watch this space!
1967 Sheffield United
As was the case against Stoke, this was the 15th fixture of season. Results had been marginally better by this stage in 1967-68, but Sunderland were still to show any sign of real improvement under boss Ian McColl and the mood around the place reflected that – the lowest home gate of the season turning up on this day.
There was a tentative start against the Blades, with several misplaced passes keeping the Lads from building any momentum in the attacking third. The visitors meanwhile were keen to get an early advantage but were regularly finding themselves thwarted by Colin Todd and Charlie Hurley. The latter was making his way back to full fitness having recently returned following a long term injury and whilst ‘the King’ did show some signs of rustiness still, not least when giving away what could have been a costly penalty, he was still a major positive.
Shortly after the break Sunderland’s opener came via some classic Hurley involvement, when he headed on Billy Hughes’ corner and Neil Martin finished it off from four yards out. It was 2-0 12 minutes later after some superb work from George Herd set his team away; winning possession on the edge of his own box, the Scot powered forward past two opponents and spread the ball out to George Kinnell, who in turn swung it into the danger area. It looked like goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson was favourite to get it, but Colin Suggett nipped through and headed in.
Mick Hill brought United back into things with enough time to mount a fightback and once again the visitors were denied by Jimmy Montgomery’s acrobatics, but it looked like his efforts would be in vain when Hurley fouled Hill with thee minutes left. United were down near the bottom with Sunderland and could have been about to snatch a vital draw, but after a wild run up Bernard Shaw was well wide of the target and the Lads breathed a sigh of relief.
Shaw had scored in similar circumstances to rescue a point in the Blades’ previous away trip but was out of luck on this occasion. It meant victory for Sunderland but they were counting the cost of a bruising encounter the following morning, with Hurley and Brian Heslop needing treatment for ankle knocks and Martin and Hughes having thigh strains.
None of the injuries were expected to be long term, and at least showed that the players were still fighting. Again though, there was to be no lasting improvement – only two more wins followed for McColl before he was shown the exit door later in the season.
Tuesday 25 October 1966, Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (O’Hare 64’, Martin 68’ – O’Hare sent off 75’)
Stoke City 1 (Viollet 79’)
Roker Park, attendance 23,320
Wednesday 25 October 1967, Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (Martin 47’, Suggett 59’)
Sheffield United 2 (Hill 72’)
Roker Park, attendance 20,464