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After two seasons of plying our trade outside the structure of the Football League, Sunderland were finally granted a place - as the first that followed the original founder members - into English football’s elite league of teams for the beginning of the 1890-91 season.
It turned out to be a solid first year with Tom Watson at the helm as manager, with a final finish of 7th (in a Football League hosting 12 teams) that could have been a place or two higher if the Lads hadn’t been docked two points for fielding Ted Doig when he was technically an ineligible player.
To add to the solid league performance in the club's inaugural season as a fully fledged member, Sunderland also reached the FA Cup semi-final, where a defeat to Notts County in a replay ended hopes of collecting some early silverware.
The second season in 1891-92 began well with a 5-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Newcastle Road, but the three successive defeats that followed left Watson’s side rock bottom of the table.
However, a run of one defeat in ten games followed that propelled us back up to 3rd in the table and back into contention for the title as the club’s first Christmas Day fixture at Everton was surrounded by controversy before a ball was even kicked.
Firstly, as reported in the Nottingham Evening Post, the introduction of a fixture on Christmas Day still had opposition:
Christmas Day football is fats becoming a recognised institution, and to-morrow a number of the leading Association teams will be hard at work, in the League, Alliance and other matches, and if the present fine weather continues there will doubtless be some excellent gates.
A few years ago football on Christmas Day was not received with any great amount of favour by our better class teams, but in these days of professional football the prospect of getting an additional gate - in all probability a very good one - has proved too attractive to be resisted.
There are many followers of the game who do not agree with football matches on the occasion of our great festival, but there are also many whose business precludes them attending Saturday games who find Christmas an excellent opportunity of seeing a good exposition of the game.
The meeting of Everton and Sunderland, at Everton, will probably attract the biggest following, for the result of the game may have considerable influence on Sunderland’s chance of the Championship.
There was then the curious case of a false report that suggested the game would be cancelled, which the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette had to counter:
A totally unauthorised report got abroad yesterday that in consequence of the frost the great League fixture between Sunderland and Everton at Liverpool on Christmas Day would be probably not take place.
There is no foundation whatever for this statement, which is all the more damaging to the interest of the Sunderland Club, because it seems to suggest official inspiration.
As a matter of fact the team will leave the Central Railway Station at 4.27 this afternoon to fulfill their engagement, and the excursion will follow at 11.25 to-night. Tickets may now be had at the Railway Station office.
Mr Harry Jarvis, of the People’s Palace, has arranged to have the score at half-time and the final result from Liverpool telegraphed on Friday (Christmas Day), and also from Wolverhampton on Saturday. The telegrams will be read from the stage of the Palace upon arrival.
Once the action was underway it was all Sunderland. Only three minutes in the visitors were awarded a penalty but Hughie Wilson saw hi penalty saved by Richard Williams in the Everton goal.
The opener did eventually come on 15 minutes when Jimmy Millar finished - “scoring from a corner” as described in the Manchester Courier - and Johnny Campbell added a second soon after.
On the half-hour mark Everton’s Duncan McLean was involved in a collision with Sunderland’s John Scott, resulting in McLean leaving the field with a broken arm that meant the home side were down to ten men.
Before the break, John Auld scored a long shot that put the game beyond any doubt if it wasn’t already and Jimmy Hannah added a fourth in the second half to complete the scoring.
Sunderland would lose only once more on their way to claiming a first league title, finishing five points clear of runners-up Preston North End.
Friday 25th December, 1891
Everton 0-4 Sunderland
[Millar, Campbell, Auld, J. Hannah]
Sunderland: Doig, Porteous, Gow, Wilson, Auld, Murray, J. Hannah, D. Hannah, Campbell, Millar, Scott
Everton: Williams, McLean, Howarth, Kelso, Holt, Robertson, Latta, Wylie, Maxwell, Chadwick, Milward
Attendance c. 16,000