If you said the final throes of the 1961-62 season promised to be exciting, you’d be prone to understatement.
In Brian Clough’s debut season for the club, Alan Brown’s men had overcome a slow start during which they lost five of their first eight league fixtures to sit third in the table going into a Roker Park derby game on the season’s penultimate Saturday.
Sunderland came into the game on the back of four straight wins, and were putting pressure on second-placed Leyton Orient, who’d dropped a point the previous day, drawing at home to Luton, who Sunderland had beaten in the previous fixture. League leaders Liverpool were five points clear in the automatic promotion places.
With a late Easter on the calendar, Sunderland were left with a hectic run in. As well as facing Newcastle at home on the Saturday, they had a Rotherham double header – at home on Easter Monday, and away the following day, followed by a trip to Swansea on the final Saturday of the season.
Win them all and we’d have a good chance of going up – and thanks to the form of the team, confidence was indeed high, with Alan Brown confirming the side was ‘in great heart’.
Newcastle were sitting midtable with little to play for. The teams had played out a 2-2 draw at St James Park earlier in the season, Clough equalising twice to secure the point, and Clough lined up once again in a team that welcomed back skipper Stan Anderson after he’d been on international duty with England, and Charlie Hurley, who returned from injury in place of Dickie Rooks. For Newcastle, Alf McMichael and Ivor Allchurch came back into the team.
With such pressure on the home team and little on the visitors, a nervy encounter may have been expected – but not so. Sunderland were at their dominant, thrilling best – and in pouring rain which by today’s standards would have threatened the game finishing, Sunderland claimed a brilliant 3-0 win, in front of 57,666.
The Journal reported:
Rain, which began a couple of hours before the kick off, never let up, and by half time, the middle of the pitch had turned into a quagmire, with water lying in pools.
It was a test of courage and stamina, and there were no quitters.
This, however, was much more than a slogging match. It had everything.
There was football which defied the mud from such as Allchurch, Hurley, Anderson and Herd, brilliant goalkeeping from Montgomery and Hollins, flashes of temper which, but for the admirable control exercised by referee Arthur Luty, could have ruined the game, and tremendous courage from all 22 players.
From the start, Sunderland took control, with Hurley, McNab and Anderson dominating at the back, while in attack, the lads enjoyed ‘unexpected superiority’, with Herd, Hooper and McPheat in particular causing the Newcastle defence a whole host of problems.
It was a fiery affair, and with less than a quarter of an hour on the clock, the referee had to bring together the captains to issue ‘a general caution’, after clashes involving McNab, Kerray, Wright and McPheat.
The first goal came in the 19th minute – Clough played a pass from McNab through to Herd, to race ahead and beat Hollins. There were suspicions of offside, however after the game the referee said:
I thought Herd was three yards onside, and my linesman estimated two.
The pace of the game showed no signs of letting up, despite the conditions, but it wasn’t until 14 minutes left that Sunderland added a second. Hooper latched onto Anderson’s through ball and saw his shot saved by Hollins, who parried only to McPheat, who scored.
The game then boiled over once more, with McNab and Kerray going into the referee’s notebook after a clash, and shortly after, Sunderland added a third to put the game beyond doubt – Herd lashing the ball past Hollins to secure the two points.
The result took Sunderland two points behind Leyton Orient, with a game in hand and a better goal difference... Next up, Rotherham. Twice.