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Roy of the Rokers: Sunderland AFC vs Reading FA Cup edition, part two!

Gary Engel continues his look at Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup run in the style of the legendary cartoon. Today’s edition takes in the 1972/1973 fourth round replay against Reading.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

For those of you who remember the heady days of Sunderland’s remarkable cup journey, have you ever wondered what it would’ve been like to be one of those players, particularly one of the lads on the fringes before Bob Stokoe arrived?

Well, here’s a player who lived that dream.

This isn’t an opinion piece or a true story. If anything, it’s simply a short series written in tribute to the feats of Sunderland’s heroes of 1973, as witnessed from the pitch itself.

Tweaks have been made in order to reimagine and incorporate our own young ‘Roy of the Rovers’ player, Jim Sharp.

He’s loosely based on someone I knew of the right age, and who had the right doors opened- the powerful young forward could also have joined that magical journey towards lifting the FA Cup under Bob Stokoe…

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite a low-key performance, Sharp still received a positive reception from the local press, with one newspaper running the headline, ‘LONG LIVE KING CHARLIE’ with the sub-heading, ‘AND LONG LIVE PRINCE JIMMY’.

It wasn’t well received by some of the other lads in the dressing room, but many of them had been together since their teens, including Sharp, who’d suffered some of the harshest treatment under former boss Alan Brown. Even Bobby Kerr, who wasn’t one of Sharp’s biggest fans, had to concede that.

Since the draw on Monday lunchtime, there was suddenly more excitement ahead of the replay against Reading.

It was announced that the winner would face an away trip to either Division One leaders Liverpool or Manchester City in the fifth round.

February 7th 1973, Reading v Sunderland.

FA Cup fourth round replay, Elm Park.

After the fanfare at Roker Park for Charlie Hurley, Sunderland knew they faced an uphill battle in the replay.

Stokoe wanted a very different approach to that of the first game and as the players got changed in the dressing room, he walked in and clapped his hands to get their attention.

“Right, lads. Big chance for us tonight. We’re going to take the game to them from the first whistle. They gave us a shock on Saturday but this time, we leave them no room for manoeuvre,” he declared.

“Aye, boss! We’ll show them the difference in class tonight,” replied Kerr.

All eyes were fixed on Stokoe. He commanded the room and had their respect.

Bob Stokoe Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

“They’re going to use their strength to shove us about, but we have to be just as strong. We mustn’t let them settle, and we have to play our own game. Have you all got that?” he asked.

The players nodded.

“I also need to address a few newspaper articles from the weekend. We played OK in difficult circumstances, but the journos seemed to single out a certain number nine,” he continued, looking towards Sharp who hung his head while waiting for the same disapproving tone he’d come to expect from Brown.

“I know it didn’t sit well with every member of the team but think of it this way: if the papers focus on one person playing well as the team are having an off-day, it keeps the pressure off the rest of you,” Stokoe concluded.

‘B****y hell, I wasn’t expecting that,’ Sharp thought, looking up as Stokoe handed him the number nine shirt again.

“Come on, lets get the job done!’ exclaimed Kerr as he bolted for the door.

If Reading were expecting to deliver a giant-killing, Stokoe’s men were in no mood to play along.

They imposed themselves on the match from kick off. They didn’t allow Reading any room, and pounced on every error made by the home side.

First, Dennis Tueart intercepted a square pass and played it to Kerr on the right, who quickly returned the pass for Tueart to shoot. The shot was cleared off the line but only found Sharp at the edge of the area.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi Final - Sunderland v Arsenal Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

He controlled it in an instant before cutting onto his left foot and rifling a shot past Steve Death, putting Sunderland ahead inside two minutes.

“Get in, Sharp lad!” shouted Ian Porterfield.

“Keep it up!” yelled Stokoe.

Sharp had taken his boss’s words to heart and the Rokerites turned in a masterclass for the first half, with himself as the conductor.

No matter how tight the Reading defenders got to him, he always had a trick to keep possession flowing, to turn his man or out-jump his opponent. On this form, he was simply unplayable.

From a Sunderland clearance, Sharp picked up possession on the left, cut inside past one midfielder then a defender before playing the ball through for the onrushing Tueart to chip the ball over Death, making it 2-0 inside fifteen minutes.

“Nicely played, Jimmy. We’ve got them all over here,” said Tueart.

“Aye, we’re playing well! Even Bobby’s smiling!” laughed Sharp.

Tueart and Sharp were combining well, leaving the Reading defence at sixes and sevens.

“Keep going, lads! Keep going!” was Hurley’s call to his flustered team.

It was no use, however. This was to be Sunderland’s night and they confirmed it with a third goal on the half hour mark.

From Porterfield’s throw, Sharp won the header and found Tueart, who took on his man before crossing for Kerr to slam the home the third goal of the night.

Minutes later, the trio combined again, culminating in a fierce shot from Kerr which struck the woodwork.

After a breathless first half, the second was a calm and professional affair, with Sunderland seeing out the game and Reading only pulling a single goal back.

There was plenty for Stokoe to ponder on the journey home, not least how well three or four of his players had linked up with each other.

“Well done, everyone. That’s the best you’ve played for me to date!” he said.

“I’m also pleased to announce that we’ve got someone joining us. The club have agreed terms to sign Vic Halom to play centre forward.”

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Sharp cringed. This was the single best and worst moment of his career under Stokoe.

It was the night he thought he’d showed his boss what he was capable of, but it looked as though performance wouldn’t matter if Stokoe had brought in his own man.

However, it wasn’t all about him. It was great to be part of such a brilliant young team who now had a match with Manchester City to contemplate.

Final score:

Reading 1

Sunderland 3


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