A home win over Leicester City on this day in 1933 took the Lads to fifth in the top flight – and it still wasn’t enough for some! Sunderland had been used to challenging amongst the elite, but the 1920s had seen them undergo an unfamiliar barren run and the high points of manager Johnny Cochrane’s time in charge were still to come. This was still a period of transition therefore, and whilst the 1933-34 season had already produced some high points the common feeling amongst the local press was that a lot of work still needed to be done.
The process continued against the Foxes, and there were several points where it seemed as if the Lads were going to be out of luck. Visiting keeper Sandy McLaren fumbled a shot so badly that it span towards goal only to bounce off the bar to safety, whilst Bert Davis also had a magnificent effort that crashed off the woodwork and away from danger. Then there was a Davis free kick that a large portion of the crowd thought had gone in, but the celebrations were curtailed when it became clear the ball had hit the side netting instead.
Sunderland had come out of the blocks quickly though, and they kept peppering McLaren until the breakthrough came courtesy of another Davis attempt, this one a clever cross-shot after he had been teed up by Benny Yorston. It was a smart move and nothing more than Cochran’s side deserved, but they were unable to hold onto the advantage long and by the half time whistle they had been pegged back through a frustratingly simple attack that saw Johnny Campbell slot home unchallenged.
The scorer was no relation to the legendary former Sunderland centre forward of the same name, but in Yorston the club had another Scot in as striker and he made the difference for the Wearsiders in the same way Campbell had done so many times before. Moving into position as fellow countryman Patsy Gallacher carried the ball forward, he took over possession and feinted past two defenders before finding the net from distance and confirming a 2-1 win.
Big victories over Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier in the campaign had put Sunderland in touching distance of the top, whilst this latest success was the perfect response to a defeat at Aston Villa last time out and ensured they were still in with the chasing pack. The reaction was not uniformly upbeat however, with the following day’s Sunday Sun and the Monday editions of the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette both expressing concerns about the performance.
It was agreed that the home side had created the better chances and deserved to win, but it was the inconsistency that riled the scribes with some superb passages of play being followed up by ponderous spells, loose passing or the players overcomplicating matters. The nature of Leicester’s equaliser was a sore point too, with what the Echo’s Argus describing as an “erratic” Sunderland defence going missing – and not for the first time in recent weeks he felt.
Both he and ‘Mirror’ were of the opinion that the visitors were the best team faced so far, so the fact that simply beating them was not enough shows how high the standards were back then. Given Sunderland’s proud history seasoned watchers had been used to the Lads competing at the very top, but even in that context it may be a shock for modern readers to learn what was being said of one of the club’s all time greats.
Although several other individuals were singled out too, it was star striker Bobby Gurney who drew most of the writer’s ire. Accused of blowing hot and cold and never having a happy medium, this was supposedly one of the Silksworth icon’s bad days. There were even suggestions that Gurney should be dropped, with a certain Raich Carter due to line up at centre forward in the final of Senior (Durham) Professional Cup at Darlington later in the week and being put forward as a potential replacement.
It is odd now to see names like Gurney suffering such wrath from Argus and perhaps Sunderland’s esteemed reporter had just got out of the wrong side of bed – after all, he even managed to squeeze in a grumble about one of the club’s other great scorers Charlie Buchan and he’d been gone for eight years! The comments seemed harsh given their contributions, but there would appear to be some merit in the overall impression of the team; Gurney did score in the next game but it was another defeat and although a finishing position of 6th was secured in the end, 14 league losses and a heavy FA Cup exit did seem to suggest the squad was not quite there yet.
Gurney doesn’t appear to have been the problem though, ending up top scorer at Roker for the fifth season running. Over time, instead of making way for him, he would form an understanding with his good friend Carter that proved pivotal in the glory years that followed later in the decade. Cochrane was clearly taking it slowly however as he tried to find the perfect structure to supplement the man that would become Sunderland’s record goalscorer – during the campaign there were no major signings and not even a single debutant until the 26th fixture. He had something brewing though and boy, were the papers going to make for pleasant reading in a couple of year’s time…
Saturday 30 September 1933
Football League Division One
Sunderland 2 (Davis 30’, Yorston 66’)
Leicester City 1 (Campbell 42’)
Sunderland: Thorpe; Murray, Shaw; McNab, McDougall, Edgar; Davis, Yorston, Gurney, Gallacher, Connor.
Roker Park, attendance 21,083