Despite the ‘icy blast’ that was said to have been anticipated by many around this time, Carlisle United and managerless Sunderland still provided an exciting affair that displayed the defensive frailties of both sides.
After the sacking of Alan Brown, Billy Elliott was tasked with the unenviable job of steadying the ship after a torrid run of results in late September and October that cost Brown his job.
Sunderland were looking vulnerable at the back. They had conceded twelve goals in the previous four games coming into this one - a record that led to caretaker Elliott switching Dave Watson from centre forward to centre half.
Despite the decision by Elliott, it didn’t have the desired effect straight away with the Sunday Sun newspaper suggesting that the club needed to hurry up in appointing a new boss after another deflating defeat that left the team in 17th position.
Sunderland will need to speed up their sifting of managerial applications through a dire need of a fresh approach.
According to match reports from the game, Sunderland were simply all over the place defensively. In particular, defender Mickey Horswill received scathing criticism for his performance suggesting that his sweeper role was doing very little to aid a leaky defence suggesting ‘he was a sweeper who forgot his brush’.
Carlisle were prolific and artful in their first half play. Jimmy Montgomery was kept constantly busy throughout the half with the half time lead of 3-1 somewhat flattering to the away side with their keeper to thank.
It only took nine minutes for the home side to take the lead through Bobby Owen. According to the Sunday Sun, the earlier work by his teammate ensured Owen had the easy task of just slotting the ball home.
A delicate Martin chipped pass, a Balderstone 40 yard pass that was a gem of accuracy - and Owen found most of the work done for him before firing home first goal at nine minutes.
Five minutes later, it was two and it was easy to feel sorry for Montgomery in the goals who was trying his damnedest to avoid this happening. A sumptuous cross from Laidlaw found Dennis Martin in the box who connected his header with the ball before Montgomery got there.
It was a poor first half hour from the away side and their defence was exposed quite easily as soft and under-prepared.
Their tendency to ball watch was causing all sorts of problems at the back.
After Bobby Kerr was fouled by John Gorman just outside the Carlisle box, Ian Porterfield’s deflected shot sent Tom Clarke the wrong way. This gave Sunderland a short lived resurgence as a minute later Gorman drove through the Sunderland midfield like a man on a mission and scored from a shot that ‘Montgomery should have saved’ to leave the score 3-1 at half time.
Whatever Billy Elliott said to his players, it had the desired impact as the away side roared back into the contest with Dave Watson’s performance gaining traction.
With Watson confirming his class the longer it went on and a thicker wedge of players in midfield, Sunderland looked a lot better after the interval.
The team were dominating the ball far more against a Carlisle side that were probably unsure of themselves. That being said, chances were scarce and it was the introduction of John Lathan that led to the two quick-fire goals that made the game 3-3.
This switch 20 minutes from time might have been made a lot earlier with the young Scot Hamilton out of it.
Within a few minutes, Lathan was quick to knock in a Porterfield corner.
The time was 75 minutes and two minutes later he crossed accurately after a Gorman slip on the difficult going let him through and Hughes touched it on for Porterfield to drive in the equaliser.
Unfortunately for Sunderland, their leaky defence did little to help Montgomery as he found himself under pressure in the dying minutes. Along with an earlier save from Balderstone’s pile driver, the goalkeeper was eager to ensure the team left with a point at least.
After another Montgomery save on the 87th minute, the resulting corner from Balderstone found the diving head of Stan Ternent who gave United the lead - again- who held on to secure a famous win.
For Sunderland despite some decent showings, their form had plummetted along with their league positon which left them 17th after this latest defeat.
Billy Elliott didn’t last much longer as caretaker as Bob Stokoe was appointed manager on the 29th November 1972 and Stokoe went on to achieve a certainly familiar bit of success.
Could anyone see that coming after this defeat at Brunton Park?