The fog that was surrounding Roker Park on this day in 1958, was very much in keeping with the mood amongst supporters who had witnessed nine defeats and four draws in the eighteen games played to date in our first season ever in the second division.
All pre-season hopes of a quick return to the first division had evaporated and been replaced with genuine concern that we were on an unstoppable slide and heading toward the third division.
Even our first away win of the season at Rotherham the previous Saturday had been blighted by a big bust-up between Don Revie and manager Alan Brown. As unbelievable as it sounds in today's game, within a week Revie was transferred to Leeds United (I wonder how that went for him?).
We had scored four unanswered goals at Millmoor, with Revie getting one and Don “Rhino” Kitchenbrand scoring a hattrick. The win had lifted us to the dizzy heights of 19th, the first time we had been out of the bottom two in weeks.
Revie’s departure created a gap that was filled by John “Ralphy” Goodchild, who had made a goal-scoring debut the previous season as an eighteen-year-old. Youngster John Maltby retained his place on the wing following his good performance at Millmoor.
Sunderland’s team contained five players twenty-one years old or younger, a testament to manager Alan Brown’s stated aim to develop the club's youth policy and bring good young players through to the first team. That said, Sheffield United arrived as promotion chasers and with the best defensive record in the division.
Kick-off saw just over 23,500 apprehensive souls in the ground. Nerves must have been jangling in the first five minutes as the Blades were all over Sunderland. Peter Wakeham (who had made his debut in goal earlier in the month) had to make two good saves and dive at the feet of a Sheffield forward, the start gave little indication of what was to come.
Slowly but surely Sunderland got a foothold in the game, with young Hurley marshalling the defence and Stan Anderson picking his passes with great accuracy. International keeper Alan Hodgkinson made a brave stop at the feet of “Rhino” Kitchenbrand, who then had a great header well saved. Reg Pearce then sent a raker of a shot that was just saved.
The flurry of chances and good link-up play fired up the Roker crowd, who were getting right behind the team at this point. Colin Grainger, “the singing winger” really came to life in this game. The England international provided an all-action display of pace, skill, and sumptuous crossing from his wing.
One of his crosses found Kitchenbrand, who powered his header goalward. With the keeper helpless, the header smashed into a post and away to safety. A goal seemed inevitable and it soon came.
On seventeen minutes “Rhino” received a great pass from Anderson and cleverly laid the ball into space on the edge of the box. Inside forward Goodchild arrived at pace and struck the ball first time across Hodgkinson and in at the far post to loud acclaim from the home crowd.
At this point Sunderland were all over the promotion chasers, who seemed unable to contain the speed and skill of Grainger and Goodchild, or the energy of Maltby and “Rhino,” who led the line with robust vigour.
On twenty-five minutes Maltby and Goodchild exchanged passes and “Ralphy” sent a wicked cross into the corridor of uncertainty, with classic timing Grainger met the ball and in one movement rocketed the cross into the goal to put the Lads two-nil up.
Six minutes later the irresistible Anderson found Maltby’s head with a peach of a pass. In a flash the young winger had flicked the ball right into the path of Goodchild who scooped the ball into the goal, despite a valiant effort by full back Shaw to hook the ball away. The Roker crowd had hardly finished celebrating when a minute later “Ralphy” got his hattrick.
Kitchenbrand again turned provider with a subtle pass that Goodchild ran on to and struck with venom past the beleaguered Hodgkinson to put Sunderland four-nil up within thirty-two minutes and the second week in a row that the Lads had scored four! You could have forgiven the Roker crowd for revelling in the goals and the passing display of their team given the season to date.
“Ralphy” was not the only teenager to score that day. Eighteen-year-old Blades winger Kevin Lewis managed to pull one back in a rare attack just before half-time.
What a first half it had been, a hattrick for young “Ralphy” and the best display the Roker crowd had seen all season.
There was no more scoring in the second half as the Sunderland defence completely froze out any incursions by the visitors. At the other end of the pitch, United had Hodgkinson to thank for keeping the score to four as Sunderland overwhelmed the overworked defence.
The Blades keeper made three great saves from “Rhino” Kitchenbrand as he set about adding to his goal tally for the season.
The game finished with a bit of sustained possession by the Blades, but no real pressure on Wakeham’s goal. Full-time saw the Roker crowd applaud and cheer the team off the pitch for what had been a thrilling team display and result.
Naturally, plenty of plaudits went to young “Ralphy” the hattrick hero, who went on to score sixteen goals in twenty-seven appearances that season, holding on to his place in the first eleven for the remainder of the season and forming a highly effective partnership with Kitchenbrand (who scored twenty-one goals in forty games that season).
This was to be Ralphy’s most productive season in his five years on Wearside. His record shows a very credible twenty-one goals in forty-five games for the Lads. Bizarrely he was transferred to Brighton in 1961 after scoring a hattrick against Leeds at Elland Road in his only game of the 1960/61 season.
The win lifted us to eighteenth place in the table and we never went back into the relegation places finishing safe in fifteenth position at the end of a disappointing season on forty points.
Date 29/11/1958 – Division Two
Venue – Roker Park
Attendance – 23,565
Sunderland 4 – 1 Sheffield United
Sunderland – Wakeham, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, Pearce, Maltby, Goodchild (3), Kitchenbrand, O’Neil, Grainger (1).
Sheffield United – Hodgkinson, Caldwell, G Shaw, Richardson, J Shaw, Summers, Lewis (1), Russell, Pace, Shiels, Simpson.