Nobody in Division One drew more league games at home than Sunderland during 1955-56, but whilst sharing the spoils can often mean a tight affair, the fixture against Burnley on this day was thrilling stuff – despite it starting so badly.
The match kicked off at 14:30 and by 14:35 the Lads somehow found themselves two down, with both goals touching a Sunderland player last before finding the net.
First up a speculative Jimmy McIlroy shot deflected off Ray Daniel’s foot and beyond the reach of goalkeeper Willie Fraser, and whilst some sources differed over whether that was an own goal or not, the one that followed moments later certainly was.
Encouraged by being gifted such a fortuitous opener and seeing their opponents on the ropes, the visitors pushed for a second right away. They got it too, and it was utterly avoidable from a Sunderland perspective; Jack Hedley nodding back a corner from the right only to see the ball rolling over the line after Fraser had misjudged it.
Rather than open up an inquisition however about who was at fault, Billy Murray’s side instead decided to try and turn the tables as quickly as possible.
The travelling party of Moscow Dynamo were in attendance ahead of a glamour friendly set to take place at Roker two days later and the squad, who trained on the pitch at full time, were said to have been very impressed with the technical ability of those in red and white.
It was sorely needed too after the catastrophic opening few minutes, and in possession the Lads looked dangerous with Colin McDonald in the Burnley goal having to make a couple of superb saves from Ted Purdon and Hedley.
The breakthrough eventually came though, and once again the strikes came in quick succession – Charlie Fleming shooting home after he received a Ken Chisholm pass and then converting his own penalty after being fouled in the box.
Sunderland were an exciting proposition going forward but weaknesses at the back were a regular issue throughout the campaign. Having worked so hard to get themselves level they were soon trailing again when Billy Gray supplied Peter McKay to tap in with the defence wide open.
Billy Elliott, so impressive against his former club, equalised once more when he forced Billy Bingham’s centre over the line after the break, and yet the home side still did not learn their lesson.
Len Shackleton had missed out with a leg injury and with 15 minutes remaining, McIlroy had to go off with a similar problem, leaving his team with only ten men on the field with it being the world before substitutes.
It had already been an action packed afternoon and the players may have expected the Clarets to try and ride out the last few minutes, but Sunderland fell into their trap and were caught with a real sucker punch when Burnley, managed by a certain Alan ‘Bomber’ Brown, counter attacked from a Les Shannon clearance.
McKay collected the ball near the halfway line and from there his task was simple enough; with defenders struggling to scramble back all he had to do was stay calm as he bore down on goal, which he managed to do before he cooly slotted home.
Behind once more, the charge was on for a third Sunderland equaliser and it came as Chisholm headed in from another Bingham cross. There was still time for a winner too but finally the match began to peter out, the Lads having to be content with a draw having pulled themselves out of a dire situation.
What’s more, the point meant they were now top of the table on goal average but alas, the title challenge would run out of steam – those draws and defensive frailties proving insurmountable in the long run.
Saturday 12th November 1955
Football League Division One
Sunderland 4-4 Burnley
[Fleming 33’, 36’, Elliott 57’, Chisholm 82’ - McIlroy 2’, Hedley (OG) 4’, McKay 38’, 79’]
Sunderland: Fraiser, Hedley, McDonald, Anderson, Daniel, Aitken, Bingham, Fleming, Purdon, Chisholm, Elliott
Burnley: McDonald, Rudman, Smith, Seith, Cummings Shannon, Gray, McIlroy, McKay, Cheesebrough, Pilkington