On this day in 1950 Sunderland drew 2-2 with Manchester United, and they then repeated the feat exactly three years later.
With both sides pushing for the title in the first game it needed a late Allenby Chilton goal for the visitors to prevent Bill Murray’s side from registering a fifth successive league win, and whilst Sunderland eventually had to settle for third that season they were back in the hunt come 1953 - and on this occasion, it was the hosts that came back from behind to take a point.
The Wearsiders had topped the table briefly at the start of the year, but after a fantastic win over Arsenal results took a downturn.
It needed two attempts to get past Third Division North outfit Scunthorpe & Lindsey United in the FA Cup, whilst there were shock league defeats to strugglers Chelsea and Derby County, with the latter going on to finish the campaign bottle of Division One.
Tommy Wright had scored a last minute equaliser against Blackpool in the last outing at Roker Park to offer some level of cheer however, and that battling mentality was to come to the fore again now that Matt Busby’s men were back in town.
It was one of the few strengths shown by the Lads mind, and despite seeing them snatch a draw at the death the revered ‘Argus’ in the following day’s Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette was far from impressed.
The late fightback could have even resulted in a victory were it not for the referee ruling out an effort from Tommy Wright, but it was still not enough to avoid Argus’ ire.
Referring to it as an “inept” display, he was left uncertain about the team’s prospects having been critical of both the defensive and attacking units and was similarly scathing of the reigning champions United, who he felt wasted too many chances to put the game to bed.
The Red Devils certainly deserved some credit though, if only for avoiding what would have been an understandable loss. With the emerging Ray Wood away representing the RAF in a cup final, Manchester United travelled up to Wearside with Jack Crompton as the one recognised goalkeeper in their party only for him to fall ill before the match.
The team had stayed in Durham overnight prior to the fixture, but once diagnosed as having influenza Crompton was quickly sent back to the North West before it could spread – even though it meant an outfield player would have to go between the sticks instead.
Skipper Johnny Carey stepped up at short notice and under the circumstances did very well. The Irish international had already earned a reputation as being a versatile performer, but even by those standards it was a brave step to go in goal in the top flight without any real experience. Young winger David Pegg was also finding his way having just made his senior debut a few weeks before, and the pair proved to be the game’s two standouts.
With Carey facing up well – Tommy Wright’s ‘goal’ later on was chalked off after the temporary stopper was charged in a forlorn attempt to unsettle him – Pegg gave his side the lead, albeit after his shot cannoned off Willie Watson and Jack Stelling to leave Harry Threadgold helpless. He then laid on the second for Eddie Lewis just before the hour mark, but with game seemingly up Sunderland mounted a welcome response. Argus (who at this point was writer Bill Butterfield) was keen to point out that not everybody had an off day and he singled out a handful of home favourites that he felt were the catalysts – he praised Arthur Hudgell’s recovery work at the back, and credited Tommy Wright and Billy Bingham with providing the energy upon which a point was wrestled back.
Regular readers of the Echo knew that Butterfield was coming from a place of knowledge and that he desperately wanted to see the Lads do well. As a constant presence in the press box, he was fully aware of what the side were capable of and when they were below par, whereas the neutral reporters were coming at it from a different angle and instead wrote the afternoon up as an entertaining affair. Both sides did indeed have chances, but the journalists couldn’t even agree on who was ultimately responsible for Murray’s team getting back into things with just seven minutes left.
The confusion is a result of Watson’s shot deflecting off Chilton, who had levelled the scores up in 1950, on its way past Carey, but there is no doubt that the double international got the second to peg United back with only seconds to spare. It was a stirring fight back on a day full of talking points, although it was tinged with sadness following confirmation afterwards that Harry Rutherford, a 65 year old supporter from Consett that had collapsed on the terraces, was pronounced dead on arrival at Sunderland Royal Infirmary.
Unable to build on the draw, and with Argus’ concerns proving valid, Sunderland ran out of steam dramatically and finished 1952-53 in midtable. It was not a campaign without highlights however – not least this extraordinary case of history repeating itself against the Red Devils.
Wednesday 18 February 1953
Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (Chilton O.G. 83, Watson 89)
Manchester United 2 (Pegg 38, Lewis 56)
Sunderland: Threadgold; Stelling, Hudgell; Watson, Hall, Aitken; Bingham, Shackleton, Davis, A. Wright, T. Wright.
Roker Park, attendance 24,263