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On This Day (11 February 1961): Flippin’ eck! Early goals give Sunderland the points

Heads I win, tails you lose – it didn’t need the flip of a coin to decide who were going to win on this day at Roker Park! 

The 1960-61 squad. Image from Sunderland AFC: The Absolute Record

Sunderland had the bit between their teeth on this day in 1961.

Their opponents Middlesbrough had inflicted a narrow defeat on the side earlier in the season, and they were heading into the rematch having just suffered a shock loss at Huddersfield Town seven days earlier.

Keen to make amends therefore, the Lads raced out of the blocks and responded in the perfect way.

The Yorkshire reverse against a side that would end the campaign being relegated came as a shock, ending a run of six successive victories that had formed part of a wider 15 game unbeaten streak.

Alan Brown’s men were desperate then to get straight back to winning ways, and they were given a boost before kick-off despite captain Stan Anderson losing the toss.

His Teesside counterpart Ken Thomson, seemingly factoring in the strong winds, elected to defend the Fulwell End in the first half, but that is exactly how Sunderland would have wanted things to pan out anyway.

Their preference at this point was to play towards that goal in the opening 45 and being able to stick to the long established pattern saw the side quickly get into their usual groove.

An early blast soon put the Rokermen in control, and with the weather steadily getting worse as the match wore on it was enough to secure the points.

This man had a huge influence on this day. Image from All the Lads

Anderson may have lost the toss but he soon had a hand in the opener, driving at a backtracking defence and letting fly with a shot that was parried by Esmond Million only to fall into the path of Harry Hooper.

Originally from Pittington, Hooper had returned to County Durham when signed from Birmingham City a few months earlier, and he unleashed a powerful left foot strike back past Million from the edge of the area.

It was a busy start for the Boro keeper, who moments later denied Ian Lawther with a spectacular dive to tip his header over the bar.

Lawther had done well to get onto the end of an inviting cross from Hooper, and from the resulting corner he went even closer – Gordon Jones clearing the effort off the line.

Undeterred though, Sunderland kept going and extended their lead following another delivery from Hooper. The outside forward was proving hard to contain, and whilst his cross was initially missed in the penalty area it eventually arrived with Willy McPheat; once again Boro had bodies back on the line, but the Scot picked his spot and confidently made it 2-0.

It was just as well that the Lads had begun so smartly.

Middlesbrough went close to an immediate reply through Alan Peacock, whose low shot was turned away when Peter Wakeham showed a good piece of goalkeeping and stuck out a leg, and with heavy rain starting to fall soon after the weather became more of an issue.

Already having a comfortable lead to sit on meant that facing the Roker End after the break, as per tradition, didn’t have to be the boost it so often was, and instead of chasing the game Sunderland were able to just play things safe amidst the worsening conditions.

McPheat had missed the Huddersfield trip where his absence was sorely felt.

The Lads’ attack had now done their bit however and in the second half it was the defence that saw most of the ball with the half back unit of Anderson, Charlie Hurley and Jimmy McNab at their imperious best.

Wakeham mopped up where required, and even though they were no longer forcing the issue Brown’s team did go close again when Ambrose Fogarty hit the post following a break away.

Willie McPheat was Sunderland’s second scorer. Image from All the Lads

It became clear that Boro wouldn’t be getting back into things and this led to the closing few minutes becoming a bit scrappy.

John Dillion, who had broken through into the first team and was having an impressive game, got dragged into a set to by Ray Yeoman, whilst Arthur Kaye was cautioned for a foul on Wakeham – incidents that underlined the visitor’s frustration at being comfortably beaten.

Fully deserved, the victory then prompted another strong run from Sunderland for whom three more consecutive wins followed.

The first of those was at Norwich City in the FA Cup, where the side had been followed by over 10,000 travelling fans.

1960-61 saw some big numbers coming through the gates with supporters eager to see their in form team, but a poor start before that had meant it was a case of trying to catch up the front runners and the Lads were never able to make up the gap; a series of event that led to Brown splashing the cash over the summer to bring in a man that had featured on Wearside 62 years ago today.

It had been one of the rare occasions where Brian Clough didn’t score at Roker Park, but the striker went on to have a sensational record in Sunderland colours before embarking on a famous managerial career that began whilst still on the club’s books.

Overseeing the youths for a period, his old teammate Yeoman would later take charge of the same side as well, but on this afternoon the closest they got to any success was when their captain won the toss.

Saturday 11 February 1961

Football League Division Two

Sunderland 2 (Hooper 9, McPheat 20)

Middlesbrough 0

Sunderland: Wakeham; Nelson, Ashurst; Anderson, Hurley, McNab; Hooper, Fogarty, Lawther, McPheat, Dillon.

Roker Park, attendance 53,254


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