Sunderland hit top form at the right time
SUNDERLAND, almost spent up on nervous energy, had a difficult task on their hands at Deepdale last night, when they had to meet the tough and desperate challenge of relegation conscious Preston NE. And although they had the inspiration of a four-minute goal by Billy Hughes, they had still to win the battle with themselves before they got down to the task of taming Preston. In the end, they finished handsome winners of both battles and well deserved their 3-1 margin.
Effort without sparkle and inspiration had them struggling in the first half and they had to be thankful that Watson, Malone and Guthrie were not caught up in the general drift. Their bold effort and the confident work of Montgomery helped Sunderland to weather a testing period with no greater concession than a 22-minute equaliser to Bruce, who had earlier hammed a great shot against the bar.
It was not until midway through the second half that confidence and rhythm began to flow though the attacking positions and from that moment Preston were doomed. Two cracking goals by Hughes and Halom in the space of two minutes gave the game its decisive swing and only desperate defence by Preston, with McIlmoyle pulled back to help prevent Sunderland from finishing with an even bigger haul of goals.
The bonus of victory was a four-place jump up the league table, which erases considerably the pressure bearing upon them over their presence in the danger zone. Games in hand are rather less comforting than points in the bag and the winning of these two away from home was a tremendous boost.
Manager Bob Stokoe only too aware that this test was coming too soon after the great effort produced on Saturday was well pleased with the happy conclusion. “The way they started did not surprise me, but they were going well at the finish.” He has always said, of course, that it is the second half which matters most in any game and here was further support for the theory.
Preston pushed forward from the start and after Bruce and Wilson had caused on or two problems, Lamb hit a 25-yard drive which scraped a post in going behind. Then in the fourth minute a kick out of hand by Montgomery was headed on by Halom and Hughes’s swift challenge on Connor as the defender tried to turn the ball back to his goalkeeper won him possession and he went on to cross the ball into goal.
Three minutes later Bruce was storming through the middle to crash a goal-worthy shot against the bar and after Guthrie had halted a dangerous run by Connor, Watson made a brilliant interception when a cross by Morley looked like reaching Holden directly in front of goal.
The equalizer came in 22 minutes, when Connor, up on the right, moved back to make a left-foot centre. Watson won in the air, but his header travelled straight to Bruce who promptly cracked it into goal off the underside of the bar.
Preston were near again when Wilson passed up a great chance created by McNab’s right-foot centre. Wilson was just off target again after resisting a weak challenge by Pitt and three corners enabled Preston to keep up the pressure until half-time.
Two minutes into the second half McNab received an ankle injury and went off to be replaced by Spark.
Pitt made a great recovery tackle when Holden was sent through by McIlmoyle and shorty afterwards Holden headed wide from a Wilson cross.
Preston’s surge petered out after they had been denied a penalty when Morley went down just inside the area and the sign that Sunderland were beginning to worry them came when Spark was booked for fouling Tueart to check a lively challenge.
This was in the 64th minute and four minutes later after Halom had won the ball Tueart stabbed a great pass through to Hughes, who swept past Brown by hitting a great goal.
Hughes was at the start of the third goal which followed two minutes later. Losing the ball and then winning it again, he moved it inside for Malone to break through to the line on the right and hit a square cross which was joyfully hammered home by Halom.
Hughes, back in defence in a rescue operation after McIlmoyle has pushed a brilliant pass through the middle for Bruce, was injured in preventing the break and was replaced by Chambers in 83 minutes.
In the last few minutes Halom went close with a header which was turned against the bar and Tueart, Kerr and Halom all had the Preston defence at panic stations as they played the ball around with skill and confidence.
In the end, it was the easiest of victories with Proud Preston well and truly toppled, but Sunderland lived dangerously for too long in the earlier stages.
Preston: Brown, Connor, McNab (Spark), Bird, Hawkins, Morley, Lamb, Bruce, McIlmoyle, Holden and Wilson.
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Pitt, Kerr, Hughes (Chambers), Halom, Porterfield and Tueart.
Referee: Mr R Tinkler of Boston. Attendance 7,636
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on March 20 1973.