ROKER REFLECTIONS: More of a crusade than a cup challenge

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IN THEIR two spells of Second Division football, Sunderland having managed to provide exciting fare for their supporters by making progress against the odds in the F.A. Cup. Next week another chance is offered for them to break through to the quarter-final.

How hopefully can they travel for their Fifth Round trial of strength with Manchester City at Maine Road and what are the realistic odds against them springing the surprise of the round by upsetting the joint favourites on their own ground?

Their chances of succeeding where Liverpool failed in the previous round cannot be rated highly by the form experts and there is no encouragement for them from the Football League order of merit which shows City in ninth place and Sunderland in 39th.

But when the “Roker Roar” goes on tour anything can happen and, backed by the inspiration which underdogs enjoy in such games, Sunderland have the enthusiasm and skill to give their First Division opponents plenty to worry about.

THEY HAVE done it before and they can do it again. Though they had knocked out Arsenal, Liverpool and Norwich City in the earlier rounds they were rank outsiders when they faced up to Tottenham in 1961, when the London club went on to complete the League and Cup double. But Spurs knew how quickly they were to earn a replay.

Again in 1964 they stormed through to the Sixth Round for a three-game show-down with success side of the day, Manchester United. Last minute goals at Old Trafford and Roker Park enabled United to hang on for replays and there had been over 260 minutes play in the tie before United took the lead for the first time in the second replay at Huddersfield and went on to win 5–1.

The odds against them next week are no more severe than they were on those occasions, and there is enough character in the current Sunderland side, pulling together well under Manager Bob Stokoe, to ensure an all-out effort to absorb all City can throw at them and keep on fighting.

CUP PROMISE

WHILE SUNDERLAND’S prime consideration this season must be to push as far as they can up the Second Division table in preparation for a promotion challenge next season, they promised themselves and their supporters a determined challenge for a good Cup run.

So far they have not done too badly. And while it may be argued that they have not achieved anything outstanding in dismissing Third Division club Notts County at the second attempt and then needing a replay to dispose conclusively of Fourth Division club Reading, it is equally true that they are a better equipped side now than they were at the turn of the year.

As Manager Bob Stokoe said: “Cup progress is important for the cash it brings, but it is just as important for the waves of enthusiasm which build up around it. We need excitement here for ourselves and for the fans. I am delighted that we have been able to provide enough to whet the appetites of our wonderful supporters and give them this big occasion at Maine Road.”

CRUSADE

So it is more of a crusade than a Cup challenge which Sunderland will be waging next week and their eagerness to succeed will not be diminished by the presence in the opposition ranks of current internationals like Francis Lee, Rodney Marsh, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Willie Donachie.

Indeed, anything which tends to stack the odds higher still in City’s favour can have the effect of undermining their attitude to the game. Cup history is crammed with examples of upsets under just these circumstances.

By train, coach and car Sunderland supporters will be making their biggest invasion of foreign territory since the three-game marathon with Leeds United seven years ago. Everyone in Maine Road will know they are there and if they do not lift the team to earn at least a Roker Park replay it will not be for the want of trying.

UPSETS

EVERYTHING seemed to be falling nicely into shape for everyone concerned after Sunderland had romped to their 3–1 replay success over Reading last week. Shortly after the game the £35,000 deal was pushed through with Luton Town for the signature of their centre forward Vic Halom and at the same time Richie Pitt and Keith Coleman were delighted with the prospect of going to Arsenal on loan for a month.

Then on Saturday David Young received a serious ankle injury against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough and Pitt had to be recalled after playing for Arsenal Reserves. He was accompanied by Coleman, who received a shoulder injury in the same game which could keep him out of action for a few weeks. A possible loan arrangement for Brian Chambers had to be cancelled too.

The big question now is whether Young will be fit for next week’s Cup-tie... and whether Pitt , back on duty this afternoon, has played himself into recognition.

Story taken from the Football Echo on February 17 1973.