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On This Day (10 June 1972): Sunderland’s Anglo-Italian relations fall flat

Do you remember being at this one? If so, you are one of the few that do, but those that missed out shouldn’t be fooled by the score…

Sunderland AFC 1971-72, as seen in the Absolute Record

Alan Brown’s Sunderland played out a rare June home fixture on this day in 1972, and while it proved high scoring, the few that were in attendance were unlikely to be clamouring for more summer action anytime soon based on this evidence.

On paper, visitors Cagliari were attractive opposition. The Sardinians were a quality outfit and the reverse fixture a few days earlier had created some intrigue. The Lads had pulled off an impressive victory on foreign soil amid ill-tempered scenes, but hopes of a keenly fought rematch had since been dashed by results elsewhere, and with both sides now unable to qualify for the Anglo-Italian Cup final, the return date had become a dead rubber.

With Casteddu boss Manlio Scopigno also deciding not to bring some of his star names to England, the game had even less appeal – and, when added to a triple whammy of economic factors, it was no surprise that the players were greeted by a sparsely populated Roker Park. The region was still coming to terms with a seven-week-long miners’ strike earlier in the year, and with unemployment high across the country and people feeling the effects of a disastrous Tory budget, paying further admission fees at the end of a long Division Two campaign was a stretch.

Those that did were hardly given much value either, such was the lack of urgency. With little atmosphere and nothing to play for, this was to be expected perhaps, but things were not helped either by a sudden format change; the tournament had already trialled proposed new offside rules, but when these were tweaked further before kick-off the sides were left unsure how to approach one another.

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With offsides only given inside the penalty area Cagliari in particular, decided to go ultra-cautious until they got a handle on things. They were still caught out twice in the early stages, though, with Dennis Tueart volleying home after Dave Watson had nodded the ball across and Mick McGiven heading in following another Watson assist. The second had come via a cross from John Lathan, who had been instructed to stay wide in an attempt to stretch the play – but the tempo could have still been described as walking pace at best.

Just as the fans’ pockets had been hit hard, the squad too was probably feeling the strain, having just slogged through a full league season and then being thrust into a heavy schedule of four games in eight days plus travel to and from mainland Europe. Passing and movement was not that crisp, and so it was a shock that Brown decided not to make any substitutions – he had been allowed to name five on the bench and utilise two.

Things marginally picked up in the second half, which opened with Renato Roffi finishing off a one-two with Nene to bring his team back into it. Before that, Jim Montgomery could have left his goal unattended and watched from the stands if he’d wanted; there would have been plenty of room for him after all, but having had hardly anything to do previously, he was deeply unfortunate to be then beaten twice more. Cagliari’s first equaliser came when Fabrizio Poletti touched in the rebound following a superb diving save and after a nice dribble, his shot was partially blocked but still squeezed in to make it 3-3.

Watson had scored with a right foot drive in between Poletti’s two strikes and having consistently outjumped his markers, was given praise in the press afterwards. Those reporting were otherwise unenthused by the whole affair, however, like everybody else there seemingly – and there was little consternation when Sunderland elected not to re-enter the competition the following year.

Saturday 10 June 1972

Anglo-Italian Cup group match

Sunderland 3 (Tueart 12’, McGiven 14’, Watson 68’)

Cagliari 3 (Roffi 47’, Poletti 67’, 81’)

Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Horswill, Pitt, Bolton; McGiven, Kerr, Porterfield, Tueart, Lathan; Watson. Unused: Forster, Ashurst, Chambers, Hamilton, Hughes

Roker Park, attendance 4,010


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