The 1910-11 season saw Sunderland start with a bang, with Robert Kyle’s men winning the first three fixtures and topping the early Division One table.
A much celebrated opening day victory over Newcastle United had been followed with further successes against Sheffield United and Aston Villa, and with the points all being secured by single goal margins the Lads were starting to look like they had the fortitude needed to mount a serious title challenge – which would be a sharp improvement on the midtable efforts of the campaign just gone.
It had been the perfect way to begin, and as the team looked to continue their form into the fourth game, they were gifted perfect conditions too. Roker was bathed in sun for the visit of Oldham Athletic on this day, with the topflight new boys about to take on Sunderland for the first time in their history. They were set for a difficult afternoon against their high flying hosts too, with their task made harder by the absence of two of their key men in John McTavish and Jimmy Hodson, who were replaced by David Walders and Billy Cook.
Cook doubled up as a professional cricketer over the summer and is said to have been something of a controversial character. He had nothing however on Sunderland’s legendary goalkeeper L R Roose, whose playing style helped revolutionise the game and whose exploits off the pitch led to countless whispers. He was a regular draw wherever he went, but on this occasion he too was unavailable, replaced therefore by understudy Tom Allan in what was Kyle’s first change to the starting XI all season.
It can be confusing when researching Allan due to his birth certificate spelling his name differently and the fact there were two other goalkeepers with similar names who also played for Sunderland either side of his time at the club – Robert Allan and Thomas Allen. Tom enjoyed a relatively straightforward outing on this occasion however, and whilst he quickly made way for Roose again the following week there was to be a longer run in the side later in the year prior to him returning to his native Scotland in May 1911.
The stopper’s best work came after half an hour when he blocked Bill Montgomery’s goal-bound header and despite the Rokerites going into the match as clear favourites they had to wait for their chance. When they did make the breakthrough shortly before the half time whistle it was thanks to a touch of class from George Holley, who shook off a couple of defenders before beating Hugh McDonald.
The Lads were in the habit of getting things done and whilst their second was a lot less polished it was just as important. Arthur Bridgett had already supplied Holley in the build up to the opener and this time he crossed into the box for Tim Coleman, who saw the ball trickle over the line after he collided with McDonald. It was a scruffy affair but provided the cushion Sunderland needed once Montgomery replied with a rising shot in the final portion of the game.
Kyle’s men looked to be on a roll, and whilst they had to eventually make do with a third place finish it would be December before anybody was good enough to be able to beat them.
Saturday 17 September 1910
Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (Holley 42’, Coleman 51’)
Oldham Athletic 1 (Montgomery 72’
Sunderland: Allan; Troughear, Milton; Tait, Thomson, Low; Mordue, Coleman, Holley, Gemmell, Bridgett.
Roker Park, attendance c. 25,000