Sunderland arrived at this home fixture against Grimsby Town, firmly anchored at the foot of the second division. Nine defeats and two draws in the first fourteen games was clear relegation form and there appeared to be no light on the grim horizon for the Lads as they struggled to get over the previous season’s relegation and the “Bank of England Crisis” that had seen the club severely fined and sanctioned in 1957.
A 3-1 defeat at Lincoln on the opening day of the season was followed up by a home defeat against Fulham watched by 37,772 expectant fans. Despite a 2-1 victory against Liverpool at Roker in front of another big crowd (36,168), hammerings away from home 0-5 v Swansea, 2-6 v Fulham, 0-6 v Sheffield Wednesday and 1-4 v Bristol City had Sunderland fans right on the edge as their team seemed devoid of confidence and an effective game plan.
The previous home game had seen a catastrophic 0-3 capitulation to mid table Charlton and the boos were ringing out long before the end of the game from the 29,835. Patience was running out, and probably not helped by the form of Sheffield Wednesday who had been relegated with Sunderland but had taken the second division by storm and were clearly ensconced as the league leaders.
Manager Brown had bought a degree of discipline and leadership. He was clearly going to give youth a chance, giving John Goodchild, Colin Nelson, Clive Bircham, Jim McNab, Len Ashurst, Cecil Irwin, and Tom Robson their debut’s (all of whom had been club apprentices) and splashing out a sizeable £20,000 on a twenty-year-old Irish centre back called Hurley, within his first year in the job. He had probably hoped that the experience of Stan Anderson, Don Revie, Colin Grainger and Reg Pearce (and Ernie Taylor a December transfer from Man Utd, where he had done such a good job in helping hold the Old Trafford team together following the Munich air disaster) would help mould the team into a force, but as they came into this fixture at the start of November, the team were holding the rest of the division up with no sign of recovery.
Don Revie had made little impact despite his reputation, he was injured for this fixture and only played one more game for the club before departing for Elland Road after a massive fallout with Alan Brown.
Grimsby were a robust, big team with some experienced campaigners at this level in their squad. They had not won away from home for eleven months and must have fancied their chances of breaking this run, given the apparent shambles being reported at Roker Park.
Alan Brown gave a debut to twenty-two-year-old goal keeper Peter Wakeham. The highly regarded stopper was a fine £5,000 capture from Torquay United and was a sterling performer for Sunderland in his five seasons with the club. Playing his first senior game of the season was John Maltby at inside left, with Stan Anderson moving to inside right to accommodate the youngster.
Despite the form of the team 23,045 had gathered, probably more in hope than expectation as the game kicked off. The mood of many fans in the ground would not have been helped by the first ten minutes as the “Mariners” dominated in a bruising and bullish fashion, with Wakeham called into action on several occasions with solid catches and a couple of good saves.
Sunderland then had a good moment, that seemed to turn the tide. Jim McNab found “Rhino” Kitchenbrand with a good ball out of defence. The big centre forward sent the “singing winger” Colin Grainger through on goal as he cracked a good shot just past the post. With the crowd appreciating the effort, Grainger then found Anderson right in front of goal with a lovely pass. Unfortunately, he mishit his shot. Grainger was then in the thick of it again as he raced through with the ball at his feet and whipped a shot that was saved at the far post by Grimsby keeper Williams.
Kitchenbrand then had a good header saved, and Anderson had two headers in quick succession from corners. He planted one firmly into a surprised Williams arms and put the other just over the bar.
Maltby also had two flying headers in the first half, both created by Grainger, that sailed just wide of the goal. What Maltby lacked in skill he certainly made up for in endeavour and energy.
The crowd were now thoroughly invested in the game, and although it was 0-0 at half-time the team were applauded for their efforts from the pitch.
The second half commenced with Sunderland right back on the attack. Stan Anderson played a wonderful pass through to Kitchenbrand in the clear advancing on goal, but he was harshly judged to be offside.
“Rhino” then returned the favour on 48 minutes. He found Anderson with a clever ball, the inside forward wasted no time in slamming the ball into the Grimsby goal. Once again, he was “harshly” whistled offside according to the local press.
Speaking of the local press, the Football Gazette reported “things had brightened up, not only because the floodlights had been switched on”!
Kitchenbrand collected another pass from Anderson and smashed a shot just wide of the post. Williams then produced a fantastic save from a Pearce thunderbolt, Kichenbrand just failed to connect with the resultant corner as Sunderland piled on the pressure.
Grainger, who true to his nickname was on song all game, almost scored from another corner, when the ball came back out to him and he scorched a low shot that was just parried by the keeper.
Pearce then tore down the left wing and sent a cross in that produced another Maltby diving header that just missed the target. Grainger then found Anderson right in front of goal, but as he teed up his shot, the ball was whipped off his foot by a defender.
A rare Grimsby attack was broken up by McNab, who was injured and required treatment in the process. Wakeham then made a glorious save from Mariners centre forward Briggs. It was probably the only time he managed to allude Hurley, who along with McNab played exceptionally well.
The alarm bells may have been ringing and finger ends getting a good chewing as the game entered the last five minutes, this was a different Sunderland team on the pitch in this game though, and they would not be denied.
Three Sunderland corners in succession ramped up the pressure and the noise within Roker Park. The third corner kick saw a panicked clearance from fullback Donovan slice straight up in the air. In something resembling a basketball tip off, goalkeeper Williams and Kitchenbrand leapt together for the “squaffed” ball. Rhino just managed to get his head to the ball and it dribbled almost apologetically into the back of the net. Given all the good play and chances that had come and gone in this game it was something of a messy goal. But that did not bother the Roker faithful who roared the goal and saluted the players at the end of the game for a hard fought but deserved victory.
The Lads finished this game still at the bottom of the table, but were the shoots of recovery just visible?
Wakeham had a very good game in goal and the defence with McNab and Hurley to the fore had looked strong and more than capable. Although never a flashy forward, Kitchenbrand scored twenty-one goals that season, (with youngster John Goodchild sliding into the gap created by Revie’s departure scoring sixteen), Grainger had probably just put in a man-of -the match performance and pushed on from this point to deliver more consistently throughout the season.
Sunderland’s home form improved over the season, winning thirteen and drawing four. Away from home continued to be a problem with only three victories and four draws on the road. It was enough to pull the Lads away from the trap door into the third division as they finished in 15th place on forty points, twelve points clear of relegation.
This victory was probably something of a small turning point in a very difficult season as the team that would eventually take Sunderland back up began to take shape.
Division Two – 01/11/1958
Venue - Roker Park
Attendance - 23,045
Sunderland 1 – 0 Grimsby
Scorer - Kitchenbrand 85 minutes
Sunderland – Wakeham, Ashurst, Nelson, McNab, Hurley, Pearce, Grainger, Maltby, Kitchenbrand, Anderson.
Grimsby – Williams, Donovan, Richardson, Connor, Cockerill, Jobling, Priestley, Briggs, Cullen, Rafferty, Fell.