After finishing up runners-up to Liverpool in 1922-23, Robert Kyle’s Sunderland ended two of the following three seasons third in the Division One table - and the hope was that 1926-27 would see the Lads make a push for the league title.
But without star striker Dave Halliday in the ranks to kick the season off, Kyle’s men could only win one of the first five league games.
Halliday’s absence was due to a suspension handed down as a punishment for receiving a red card when Sunderland entertained Arsenal in the penultimate home fixture of the 1925-26 season.
By the time it was Sunderland’s turn to travel to the capital in the reverse fixture in mid-November of the 1926-27 season, they had made up for lost ground and were heading into the fixture as joint leaders with Tottenham Hotspur after a 2-1 home win over Liverpool.
In the build-up to the fixture at Highbury, the Evening Despatch noted:
The Arsenal also have not suffered defeat at home, having won four games and drawn four. They appear to have a liking for soft ground and there was considerable merit in their draw at Huddersfield last week.
On the other hand the clever Sunderland forwards are seen at their best on good “going”. The turf tomorrow is certain to be yielding and for this reason The Arsenal are slight preference.
The heavy rainfall in London meant the attendance dropped to around 20,000 in front of a home crowd that saw their side come quickly out of the blocks to put Sunderland under pressure.
In the early stages, Albert McInroy had to be on his toes to beat former Roker favourite Charlie Buchan to the ball from an inviting cross. As the first half progressed the away side grew more into the game, with Bobby Marshall and Bob Kelly in particular causing problems for the Gunners.
However, it was on 22 minutes that Buchan inevitably scored the opener, when he nodded home a Joe Hulme cross from close range. Robert Kyle’s side responded well and almost replied immediately when Bill Harper dropped a shot from Billy Ellis and was “smuggled away” after it bounced on the goal line according to reports.
The home side were once again on the ascendancy after this opportunity and when the equaliser came on 37 minutes it was against the run of play, with Ellis nodding home a cross from Kelly.
The game then became chaotic with both sides pressing to take the lead. Only a minute after the goal, Dave Halliday missed a glorious opportunity to hand Sunderland the lead before Jimmy Ramsey gave the home side the lead seconds later. Despite Marshall having a good opportunity to level the game going into the break, the first half ended with Arsenal in front.
After the interval, Sunderland pressed immediately to get back on level terms. Halliday went close on a number of occasions via crosses from Kelly until it finally happened on the hour mark, when this time a through ball from Kelly was converted by Halliday.
Both sides had chances to take the lead and a draw might have been a fair reflection of the game. Still, with the two sides appearing to be running out of time, Marshall claimed the winning goal for Sunderland with just four minutes remaining to make it 3-2 which is how it ended to take Sunderland to the top of the table.
The game was summarised in the Athletic News:
Arsenal’s home record - they had not been beaten at Highbury this season - was smirched by Sunderland in one of the best games one could wish to see.
It was a game in which neither side deserved to be defeated, though there was just that little bit of extra polish and decisiveness about the finish of the play of the Wearsiders that decided the issue.
Saturday 20th November, 1926
Arsenal 2-3 Sunderland
[Buchan 22’, Ransay 40’ - Ellis 37’, Halliday 60’, Marshall 86’]
Sunderland: McInroy, Cresswell, England, Clunas, C. Parker, Coxford, Kelly, Marshall, Halliday, Coglin, Ellis
Arsenal: Harper, T. Parker, John, Seddon, Butler, Blyth, Hulme, Brain, Buchan, Ramsay, Haden