WITHOUT pushing themselves too hard, Sunderland pulled out enough to earn a clear-cut victory over Portsmouth at Roker Park on Saturday. The 2–0 margin was modest indeed compared to what it might have been if Portsmouth had been served by a less accomplished goalkeeper than Tilsed ... and if Sunderland had whipped themselves into the mood in which they had overpowered Huddersfield Town only four days earlier.
But victory was theirs by right and in taking 11 points out of the last 12 they have now put an end to whatever fears there may have been of them being involved in the safety battle. And with four or five games in hand of most of the ten clubs now ranked above them, they now have a first-class chance of climbing into the top four as a springboard for next season’s promotion campaign.
With such a crowded programme facing them before they can settle down to preparation for their F.A. Cup Final task against Leeds United on May 5, Manager Bob Stokoe’s biggest concern is that his Cup fighters should steer clear of serious injuries. He has asked all along for maximum effort, and as far as possible, he has kept his Cup side together.
This could change, however, for Billy Hughes is definitely out of the running for tonight’s League visit to Burnley through an ankle injury and there could be other non-starters.
Mr Stokoe’s biggest regret was that over 31,000 supporters did not see the team in top form. “In view of the standard they have set themselves in recent weeks, it was disappointing. They did not play well, but they still won and that must be the hallmark of a consistent side.”
“We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope no-one gets a serious knock in our next six games before Wembley,” he said.
The risks were all the way through Saturday’s game, for Portsmouth, still anxious over their League position, did not hold back and a brave, though over-worked defence handed out a lot of punishment in their desperation to bring some sort of profit from the game.
They had chances of doing so in the second half while Sunderland, holding a 1–0 lead eased their play and could have been in trouble against a team better equipped in finishing power. But they could never have foreseen that this situation was likely to develop, because they had been so overplayed in the first half that Sunderland appeared to be on their way to the easiest of wins by a handsome margin.
From the moment that Tilsed made the save of the game by turning a powerful Hughes header from a Kerr free-kick over the bar, the Portsmouth goal was under siege.
Guthrie went close and then Tueart lobbed just wide of an open goal from 25 yards after Tilsed had fisted out a cross.
Piper missed a good chance after a sliced shot by Pointer had put him clear, but the scene of action quickly shifted to the other end, where Tilsed brought off another fine save when Tueart first-timed a strong cross from Halom.
Playing a lot of one-touch football, Sunderland covered a lot of ground quickly again with another chance when Halom touched the ball on for Kerr, who sent his drive wide of an open goal from about ten yards.
Half a dozen really good chances had been made and missed before Sunderland took the lead in the 42nd minute.
Porterfield showed excellent control in making space for his centre from the left under challenge and when the ball reached the middle Kerr rose above everyone at the far post to head a fine goal.
Just before the break, Pompey might well have drawn level. Pitt twice headed clear to delay an attack, but eventually Jennings went through and hit a strong drive, which Montgomery could only push out. The follow-up chance fell to Foggo, whose hurried drive lifted over the bar from about six yards.
In the early minutes of the second half, Lewis saved a certain goal by sliding in to turn a Watson drive away for a corner with Tilsed unsighted.
Jenning was booked in the 51st minute for retaliation after being beaten in a tackle by Malone and two minutes later the referee was booking Lewis for raising a foot dangerously high in a challenge from behind on Hughes.
Pompey’s desperation and a measure of sluggishness in Sunderland’s play had a levelling effect, but good work by Foggo, Piper and Jennings was squandered because none could provide a finishing touch to trouble Montgomery.
This was how it stood for much of the second half, but when Sunderland began to push harder in the later stages all Pompey’s fears came to life again.
Hughes and Tueart both missed good chances and then Hughes broke from a headed pass by Halom and was injured in an attempt to get in a shot on the run. He was replaced by Young with nine minutes to go and two minutes later Pompey cracked against a right wing move which had Tueart bursting into an ideal position, only to be brought down by Stephenson.
Tueart stepped up to take the kick and although Tilsed moved in the right direction he could not get across in time to reach Tueart’s powerful shot, which flashed just inside the left hand post.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on April 16 1973.