With the weather threatening snow, the crowd might have been warmed to know that their heroes would score five goals in this game. They would have been less warmed by the fact that all it would get them would be a point!
Sunderland’s form up to this point in the season was worrying.
Of the thirty-three games they had played, seventeen had been lost and eight drawn. Their home form had seen eight draws and five losses.
New players had been bought in to try and stem the slide by manager Alan Brown, who had added Scottish forward George Whitelaw, Leadgate-born Alan O’Neill and South African Don “Rhino” Kitchenbrand from Rangers to his first team.
There was no place for Billy Bingham in the team, with rumours of difficulties between him and Alan Brown, as well as Italian giants Napoli on the cusp of making Sunderland an offer they might find difficult to refuse.
Conceding an unfortunate own goal on six minutes was not the start Sunderland and their fans were hoping for. The hard-working centre back George Aitken deflected a Sheffield forward’s shot past Fraser in the Sunderland goal, when it looked like the keeper had it covered. In fairness to Aitken he recovered well from this set-back and was one of the Lads best players on the day.
With both forward lines struggling to get going, there was little to warm the freezing crowd. Kithenbrand had his nose knocked and reluctantly left the field for several minutes in an attempt to stem the blood.
His return to the field triggered a Sunderland attack and equaliser. A Fogarty pass was taken in his stride by O’Neill, who lashed the ball into the Wednesday goal. Within five minutes however, Fraser pulled off a good save from Wilkinson, but could only parry the ball back to him, he made no mistake with the rebound and put the Owls in front again.
The resumption of the second half saw a disastrous start for Sunderland, as the industrious Billy Elliott somehow got his dancing shoes on the wrong feet and deflected a ball into his own goal as he slid into a challenge. It was tough on the hard-working Elliott, who like his partner Aitken had an excellent game otherwise.
If the crowd anticipated a surrender at this point, it did not happen as Sunderland to a man rallied and took the crowd with them! With Stan Anderson coming much more into the game, a nice touch by “Rhino” on sixty-one minutes set Alan O’Neill in on goal. He held the Sheffield defender foo to score past Ryalls for his second of the game.
2-3 and the comeback was on. With the crowd right behind them, Sunderland mounted a number of attacks. Whitelaw and the “singing winger” Colin Grainger both went close.
On sixty-nine minutes, the equaliser and the goal his performance deserved. Kitchenbrand swept a Pearce pass into the Wednesday goal after some neat build-up play.
It looked like the only scorers were going to be Sunderland as Wednesday hung on in the now swirling snow. Despite a great run and shot from Grainger and what looked like a perfectly good goal by O’Neill not given by the referee for off-side, the game finished without any further scoring.
Disappointing though it was to only get a point after such a spirited come-back, the Roker crowd were appreciative of their team’s efforts.
For Sunderland the newer players, Kitchenbrand, O’Neill and Whitelaw were best. Aitken and Elliott worked hard throughout and Anderson almost orchestrated a second half victory with a performance proving that football is a game of two halves.
Season 1957/58 was a calamitous one for Sunderland. They struggled to recover from the Bank of England scandal and were relegated with Sheffield Wednesday for the very first time in their history.
It would take Alan Brown five years to regain top status for the Lads in 1963/64 with a team unrecognisable to the one that scored five goals but only took a point on this day!
Roker Park – Division 1 // March 8th 1958 // Attendance 22,477
Sunderland 3 (O’Neill 31 & 61, Kitchenbrand 69)
Sheffield Wednesday 3 (OG 6 & 47, Wilkinson 37)
Sunderland: Fraser, Hedley, Elliott, Anderson, Aitken, Pearce, Fogarty, O’Neill, Kitchenbrand, Whitelaw, Grainger.
Sheffield Wednesday: Ryalls, Martin, Baker, McAnearney, Swann, O’Donnell, Wilkinson, Quixall, Shiner, Froggatt, Finney.