Sunderland left themselves on the cusp of promotion after this fine win against a Watford team who, for forty tense minutes, made this a close contest.
Over 32,000 expectant Rokerites saluted a noisy victory, but Watford did not make it easy in the first half. There was tension in the air as Sunderland relied on a bit of experience in the shape of Robson and Buckley (who was returning from injury), as well as the enigmatic Arnott, who strolled effectively through the 90 minutes as if “nowt was at stake.”
The result left Sunderland needing two points from the remaining two games against Cardiff and West Ham to confirm promotion, and with a game in hand on all their rivals, momentum was with the Black Cats.
Sunderland arrived at this fixture on a 12-game unbeaten run and were unbeaten at Roker Park all season.
With only a couple of half-chances to show in the first 35 minutes and Watford playing neat football and looking lively up front with Luther Blissett and former Middlesbrough and Hartlepool forward Malcolm Poskett, I was not alone in feeling a bit of anxiety within Roker Park.
The tension was released on 36 minutes when Pop Robson forced a corner on the right-hand side. Arnott crossed to the near post for Hindmarch to get a glancing header, and Robson ghosted in and headed home firmly from six yards out for his twentieth goal of the season.
Six minutes later, with whatever nerves had been apparent dissipated, Alan Brown skipped through a Bolton challenge and crossed a peach of a ball into the Watford box. Steve Terry just managed to get to the ball but could not clear it fully.
The ball fell to the onrushing Buckley, who cracked an unstoppable shot past Steele in the Watford goal from twelve yards out. It was a goal thoroughly deserved for the midfielder, who had been at the heart of all that was good about Sunderland’s first-half display.
At his gallant best in the second half, Kevin Arnott produced a fantastic save from Steele just after halftime. Alan Brown then went close with another well-worked team effort.
On sixty-three minutes, Shaun Elliott crashed through a challenge and sent a fine shot into the Watford goal from twenty yards out. Three goals up, and the crowd was really appreciating the performance. Promotion was being hailed from the terraces.
Arnott’s influence on the game grew as Sunderland dominated in midfield. On sixty-eight minutes, he produced a pinpoint cross that left Steele unsure whether to “stick or twist.” Once again, Pop Robson ghosted in and swept the ball past the Watford keeper for his second of the game. At thirty-four years of age and a cost of £40,000, Robson must have been in the running for bargain of the season!
On seventy-eight minutes, Robson and Arnott combined brilliantly to set Elliott up for a rare brace. He looked like he might have taken the ball just a bit too far to the right of the Watford goal, but he managed to wrap his right foot around the ball and angled it in at the post for Sunderland’s fifth of the game.
Watford had played well for forty minutes but did not leave quite empty-handed. Former Sunderland full-back Mickey Henderson picked up a booking!
As for Ken Knighton’s team, with Chelsea slipping up and with a game in hand on all our rivals, we looked in a strong position to go up automatically by the end of this comprehensive victory.
League Division 2
Roker Park – Attendance 32,195
Sunderland 5 – 0 Watford
Scorer’s – Robson 36 & 68mins, Buckley 42mins, Elliott 63 & 78mins.
Sunderland – Turner, Hinnigan, Whitworth, Hindmarch, Clarke, Elliott, Buckley, Arnott, Cummins, Brown, Robson. (Unused Sub Dunn)
Watford – Steele, Henderson, Pritchard, Booth (Jackett), Terry, Bolton, Ward, Train, Rostron, Blissett, Poskett.