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Manager Bill Murray was building a team that, at least on paper, looked capable of winning the league title. Sprinkled with international players, big crowds were turning up at Roker Park to see the likes of Len Shackleton, Trevor Ford, Willie Watson, Billy Bingham, Tommy Wright, and George Aitken.
Sunderland arrived at this game against Sheffield Wednesday in second place in the table, with a game in hand on the leaders, Wolves. Unfortunately, top goal scorer Trevor Ford was injured, so Billy Bingham came in for his seventh game of the season.
Sheffield Wednesday included a young centre forward – Derek Dooley, who had made a huge impact since coming into the team, scoring at just over a goal a game. This would be his first (and only) outing at Roker Park.
The game kicked off, and the first fifteen minutes saw Sunderland overrun the Wednesday defence with some intricate passing and exciting ball-play, which had the huge crowd, just short of 50,000, purring with pleasure.
A brilliant shot by Shackleton produced a stunning save from Capewell in the Owls’ goal (who went on to have an excellent match).
Despite their dominance, Sunderland struggled to get the final touch. A fine shot from Tommy Wright was again well gathered by Capewell and from this attempt, Wednesday broke upfield and scored.
It’s likely the home defenders would still be protesting loud and long that Sewell was offside when he ran onto a Froggett pass and planted the ball past Threadgold to put the visitors one-nil up just before the break, somewhat against the run of play.
The game resumed with Wednesday all over Sunderland for the first ten minutes of the second half, and it was they who looked more likely to increase their lead.
But, come the hour, up stepped Len Shackleton as he stamped his unique imprint on this game to take it away from the visitors.
On sixty-three minutes, an accurate free kick by Hudgell saw him pick out Harry Kirtley’s head, and he deftly nodded the ball toward the fast-arriving Shackleton, who volleyed a superb strike to almost break the net and draw Sunderland level.
A little under three minutes later, and this time goal-scorer turned provider, with a clever free-kick from the edge of the box on the by-line. Dummying to play a high cross into the box, Shackleton sent a low hard cross to the back post, where local lad Kirtley was lurking with good intent as he side-footed the ball home. The huge Roker crowd exploded with delight at the three minutes and two goals it had witnessed.
Shackleton was not finished there, though, as he teased and tormented the Wednesday defence mercilessly for most of the second half, ably assisted by Tommy Reynolds on the left wing. (Reynolds was another local lad and pocket dynamo, who apart from running full backs ragged was a noted breeder of greyhounds and successfully raced them on his local track).
Sheffield did enjoy a late surge as they went in search of an equaliser, but in truth Stelling, Hudgell and Aitken, along with Threadgold in the Sunderland goal, were more than a match for anything the visitors had to offer, and Sunderland held on for the win.
The massive crowd roared its approval on full-time. Sunderland remained in second place, but despite the absence of their top goal scorer, their tilt at the title was still on track, as they were on the same points as leaders West Brom with a game in hand.
Derek Dooley had been built up as a major threat prior to the game but was kept very quiet by Aitken and the home defence. Tragically, we would never see Dooley back at Roker Park. In February of this season, he sustained a double fracture in a game against Preston at Deepdale. On the point of being discharged from hospital a few days later, a nurse noticed a small cut that had become infected, and gangrene had set in, resulting in the amputation of his leg. At the time of his injury, Dooley had scored sixty-two goals in sixty-one games for the Owls.
Despite their title aspirations, Sunderland played a friendly at the Dell five days prior to this game under Southampton’s new floodlights for the first time (Tommy Wright scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory). Remarkably, they then, a couple of days after the Sheffield game, played another friendly at Roker Park in front of 34,000 fans as the club’s new floodlights were introduced to the footballing world and the Sunderland skyline. Len Shackleton scored the first ever goal under lights at Roker Park as Sunderland beat a star-studded Dundee team 5-3.
Sunderland’s title challenge fell away in the second half of the season. Having beaten eventual league winners Arsenal at Roker Park on January 3rd in a 3-1 victory to go top of the table, Trevor Ford sustained an ankle break in the next game, and his absence from the team saw a twelve-game run without a victory, with Sunderland finishing the season in a disappointing ninth position.
League Division One
Date - December 6th1952
Venue - Roker Park
Attendance - 49,954
Sunderland 2 - 1 Sheffield Wednesday
Sunderland – Threadgold, Stelling, Hudgell, Hall, Aitken, Wright A, Bingham, Kirtley (1), Wright T, Shackleton (1), Reynolds.
Sheffield Wednesday – Capewell, Kenny, Curtis, Witcomb, Turton, Davies, Finney, Sewell (1), Dooley, Froggatt, Quixall.