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Soccer - Boothferry Park - Hull

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On This Day (27 Dec 1971): To Hull and back at Christmas Time!

A future Sunderland manager almost derails our promotion push in this festive fixture, which turned into a belter of a game, as the core of our 1973 Cup winners team begin to serve notice of things to come.

Photo by Anna Gowthorpe - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Our Boxing Day fixture at Hull got me thinking about my first festive away game — a very exciting victory at relegation threatened Hull City in December 1971.

I had managed to get a seat in a car to the victory at Burnley earlier in the season with a friend from school and his elder brother. The same combination had invited me to join them for this trip and I did not need to be asked twice! To my surprise when I got to the Newcastle pick-up point from my Morpeth home, I was funnelled into the back of a big white van, to join my friend and a load of his older brothers mates.

Though I did not know it then, this was to be the first of many away games courtesy of a “big van” throughout the 70’s.

It was a noisy and humorous journey down to Boothferry Park, as the older lads shared tales of their Christmas exploits and stories of previous games and their journeys.

A “pee-stop” almost saw us lose one of our passengers as he took off to a burger van and we took off down the road to Hull. The back of the van was so packed and without windows, he had not been missed. Thankfully, our driver spotted a twirling red and white scarf chasing the van down the slip road in his wing mirror and stopped to let him take his seat on the crate he had bought especially for the journey. Unfortunately, and to much laughter in the back of the van, he had hung onto his burger bun whilst chasing the van but lost the burger to the road and crows!

Boothferry Park back then was quite a tidy ground and there was a raucous away support upward of 3,500 in the 26,091 crowd, which was Hull’s largest crowd for four years.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division Three - Playoff Semi Final First Leg - Hull City v Leyton Orient Photo by Paul Marriott/EMPICS via Getty Images

Sunderland arrived at this game in fourth position and mounting a credible push for promotion. Hull were struggling at the wrong end of the table but had a number of decent players, including a young centre forward who looked like he would go far in Stuart Pearson. They also had a future Sunderland manager and coach in their ranks, Ken Knighton.

Although we had lost three on the road up to that point in the season, we had also drawn five and won two so there was grounds to think we might get something out of this game.

Our team that day saw Forster continue in goal for the injured Montgomery. It also contained eight of the eleven who would take the field at Wembley 17 months later in our 1973 FA Cup final victory, but that was still just a glorious pipe dream as we lined up to get the game underway.

Hull made all the early running with the lively Wagstaff and Pearson testing our defence in the first phase of the game. Ken Knighton had the ball in the net for what looked like a good goal to me, luckily this was given offside.

Ken Wagstaff then had a very good opportunity to put the Tigers in front but missed and it proved pivotal as Kerr, Porterfield and Chambers began to get control of the midfield, with Dennis Tueart in particular looking in the fettle up front.

With Sunderland now dominant, on twenty-seven minutes a great run and cross by Tueart saw Richie Pitt up in support of the attack get his head well onto the ball and plant it past McKechnie in the Hull goal to put us 1-0 in front. The travelling support cheered this goal to the rafters, probably more in relief as Hull had really taken the game to us.

This was Richie Pitt’s third goal of the season and his second in successive games. The young centre half was really benefitting from a run of games and would go on to score a very credible six goals in total that season.

Hull responded to this setback and Keith Coleman (who was also benefiting from a run of games) was booked for an agricultural hack’ on Pearson. The resultant free kick saw Hull equalise eventually as Knighton first had a shot blocked at close range and then in the melee that followed, he managed to get a foot to the ball and prod it by Forster to see the Tigers all square at the break. Pitt and Porterfield distinguished themselves with good tackles and interceptions in this period as Hull now enjoyed a period of dominance.

Immediately after the restart Wagstaff charged forward and laid the ball off to Banks on the wing who sent a dangerous cross into our box. Pearson came steaming in and despatched a good header past Forster to put the Tigers in front.

Once again Sunderland responded to the setback, with Kerr, Watson, and Martin Harvey in particular to the fore. With the travelling support in full voice, we really showed our promotion credentials in this period of the game.

On forty-nine minutes Dave Watson sent a thunderous pile-driver in on goal. McKechnie just managed to get a fingertip to the ball, as it cannoned off the upright, Tueart was onto the rebound in a flash and before you could blink had slotted home to draw us level.

It was all Sunderland now as we came at Hull from all angles. Hull’s veteran defender John Kaye (who had played well) left the field injured to be replaced by Malcolm Lord and their defence really began to creak under all our pressure.

On sixty-eight minutes a lovely passage of football saw us grab the winner. Porterfield found Tueart with a slide-rule pass, he danced forward beating his marker and sending a wicked cross toward Billy Hughes. Despite the ball being slightly behind him, the buccaneering Scot swerved a belter of a shot past the rooted McKechnie to put us three-two in front. The travelling support certainly enjoyed this goal and it was no more than we deserved after some cracking attacking football following Hull’s equaliser.

Hull once again responded and whilst they applied a bit of pressure, we always looked likely on the break to hold on for the victory.

It had been a real ding dong battle and fair play to Hull on the day they really put a shift in. We maintained our position at fourth in the table and sent the large travelling contingent home very happy.

Unfortunately, we could not maintain our push for promotion that season and Hull had their revenge on April fools day at Roker Park beating us 1-0 with a goal by Ken Wagstaff. But a team was building and who could have predicted what the following season would bring!

Stuart Pearson was taken to Manchester United in 1974 by Tommy Docherty (who was Hull manager Terry Neil’s number two for this game), he went on to earn fifteen England caps and scored 105 goals in a career spanning 302 games. He was one of those players who was a regular thorn in our side whenever we came up against him with goals and assists.

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