Fresh out of the cup and decidedly midtable, there was a danger that the 1977-78 season was going to fizzle out under Jimmy Adamson as early as January. To make matters worse for the Sunderland boss he had a couple of selection headaches to deal with ahead of an away game at Orient on this day, but the trip to the capital was to provide some talking points at least and helped preserve a little bit of intrigue in the Lads’ stagnating fortunes.
Jackie Ashurst had been one of the few players to have been in good form in recent weeks but was ruled out with flu. Mick Docherty was also unavailable after a knee problem had flared up again in training during the week, but with Jeff Clarke back from suspension and Bobby Kerr fit once more following his own injury worries there was some positive news too. In the end Adamson made five changes to the starting XI that had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Bristol Rovers seven days earlier, and the most eye catching move was the decision to bring in young defender Rob Hindmarch for his first senior appearance.
The debutant was very solid, and his height proved a real asset. After the first few minutes of the game he must have been wondering what he had let him for though, with a series of curious events leaving the travelling support somewhat bemused. First up was a delay brought about by Sunderland winning a corner – the team were wearing their blue change kit and referee Tom Reynolds, taking charge as a late replacement, was unhappy about a colour clash so sent home goalkeeper John Jackson back into the changing rooms to switch jerseys.
Having also started the match in a similar shade of blue he dashed away and soon remerged in a more traditional green, but it wasn’t long before play was held up again. This time it for an old school dog on the pitch scenario, but even that was nothing compared to what happened next when after 14 minutes Gary Rowell stepped up to take a penalty. Fouled by Bobby Fisher in the box, fans would have put their houses on their favourite coolly tucking the resulting spot kick away only to see him hit his effort wide. A bizarre sight indeed; this would prove to be his only penalty failure in Sunderland colours.
Things then settled down and both sides looked to start playing some proper football, with the entertainment levels high throughout. The Lads continued to create chances for themselves and after Wilf Rostron and Bob Lee had gone close, they took a deserved lead with an hour played. Although the younger players in the team did themselves proud it was old stalwart Kerr, on the transfer list and said to be enduring a strained relationship with Adamson, who was man of the match, and his corner was blasted in by Clarke from 8 yards.
Sunderland held onto the advantage for a little over ten minutes, and then came a goal rush. It was 2-2 within the blink of an eye, with Peter Kitchen drawing the hosts level after beating two defenders and scoring past a helpless Barry Siddall before Rowell hammered in from the edge of the box only for Orient to equalise again seconds later through John Chiedoze.
The winger put away a left wing cross to score and the madness continued when Lee had another near miss just another minute later. The tempo then looked like it was going to ease off, but a late flurry in the final minutes gave hope of a dramatic winner for Sunderland, with Mel Holden’s overhead kick only just clearing the bar and Jackson having to save a Rowell diving header. It was eye catching stuff and brought a short lived increase in the pulse rate, but the full time score left both clubs halfway up the table, and after twice surrendering the lead there seemed to be little prospect of Adamson enjoying a prolonged upturn in the near future.
Saturday 14 January 1978
Football League Division Two
Orient 2 (Kitchen 73’, Chiedoze 74’)
Sunderland 2 (Clarke 62’, Rowell 74’)
Sunderland: Siddall; Henderson, Clarke, Hindmarch, Gilbert; Rostron, Kerr, Elliott, Rowell; Lee, Holden.
Brisbane Road, attendance 6, 737