With five defeats from their last five, Sunderland were in a dreadful run of form as they took to the pitch to play Blackpool on this day in 1966.
Their last point had come at Sheffield United over a month before, when a Jimmy Montgomery penalty save helped earn a 2-2 draw. Monty had re-established himself as first choice keeper at the start of the year having seen off the challenge of Sandy McLaughlan, but whilst his performance levels had remained high after the trip to Bramall Lane there was room for improvement in front of him – and it was to be another well-loved figure on Wearside that made his presence felt against the Seasiders.
Charlie Hurley had come back into the side two weeks earlier having recovered from a knock he’d picked up in January, but it was only now that he was fully up to speed. Teaming up well alongside fellow stalwart Martin Harvey the defence suddenly looked much more organised than it had of late, but it was at the other end of the pitch where the King really made an impact.
With both teams struggling in the wrong half of the table, the match drifted for large periods until bursting into life in the final half hour. A couple of trademark Hurley forays up field had been the closest either outfit had come to a goal before then, and the breakthrough was to come from another set piece – although on this occasion it was George Mulhall that met Jim Baxter’s free kick and flicked it on for John O’Hare to guide past Tony Waiters.
Ian McColl’s side had battled hard thus far but frustratingly, the lead didn’t last long. A quickly taken throw in seemed to catch them cold, and when Johnny Green fed the ball to Graham Oates, he finished well to level the scores. That equaliser could have easily dented Sunderland’s already fragile confidence, but now was the time for their talisman to step forward and force a winner.
The goal came from another quality dead ball delivery from Baxter, which Hurley threw himself towards amidst a crowd of defenders and pushed into the path of O’Hare. The Scot had done well to get himself into a prime position and was able to finish the move off, but the celebrations soon became muted when it became apparent that Hurley was now prone on the ground and in need of attention.
A further lay off through injury could have been catastrophic, but after receiving treatment Hurley was able to get through the game and would continue putting his body on the line for the rest of the campaign. His availability proved to be a huge factor in the club surviving relegation, yet it could have been a very different story had Sunderland not stopped the rot against Blackpool.
O’Hare had scored a brace against the same opposition in the League Cup the season before, whereas this time his contribution had now confirmed a confidence boosting double over the visitors – who proved to be the only side they would beat on their travels in 1965-66. It was the home form that saw The Lads remain in Division One, and they followed success over the Tangerines 57 years ago today with four more victories and a draw in their final six Roker dates.
Saturday 12 March 1966
Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (O’Hare 63, 70)
Blackpool (Oates 66)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Parke, Ashurst; Harvey, Hurley, Baxter; Gauden, Herd, O’Hare, McNab, Mulhall. Unused: Moore.
Roker Park, attendance 26,246