IF winning was not important, Sunderland could feel that they had made a further notable contribution to a highly entertaining season at Ashton Gate on Saturday, when they outclassed Bristol City with a display of free-flowing attacking football which earned the warmest tributes from City supporters. The rhythm of their play never faltered and onlookers with a Sunderland bias waited confidently for the goal-rush to begin. But it never did and a late goal enabled City to finish 1–0 winners of a game in which victory should have been far beyond their reach at an early stage.
To be goal-less and point-less after so much skilled effort, so much powerful finishing was a heart-breaking experience for the Sunderland players. They gave everything to their tasks with a confidence which makes them ridiculously out of place in the lower reaches of the Second Division. But the end product was one more failure and no one felt the disappointment more keenly than caretaker-manager Billy Elliott, who wanted to hand over a winning team to new manager Mr Bob Stokoe on Wednesday.
Credit could not be denied to Len Bond, City’s 18-year-old goalkeeper, who was having his first League game of the season, for the part which he played in making sure that there was no end to Sunderland’s frustration. He made a dozen top-class saves and was entitled to all the luck which he carried on other occasions.
The only shot which went past him was cleared from the line by Merrick and he was courageous in tight situations on a day when Sunderland’s marksmen managed to get most of their shots well on the target.
However entertaining the spectacle may have been to the neutral observer, a one-sided game without goals is, depressing indeed for the committed onlooker. Deserving to win is not enough unless they are claiming the goals which their play merits.
On that count they are already ten points short of their entitlement, but that does not show in the league table, which has them bracketed on 15 points with Portsmouth and Cardiff City just two points above bottom club Brighton.
That position is real enough no matter how highly their overall performance may be rated, and the big question is when does the turn for the better start for a team which has gone eight games without a win and lost five away games in a row.
The first half carried no hint of the robbery which was to come, but there was warning enough for Sunderland that luck was not going with them. They could have been two or three goals to the good in the first 20 minutes and then their best chance of opening their account slipped away when Chambers dashed through the middle only to have his drive blocked. Lathan’s follow-up shot at an open goal lifted over the bar.
Hughes, Kerr and Chambers all produced goal-worthy shots before Sunderland’s clear-cut case for a penalty was ignored by the referee.
This came when Tueart was scythed down from behind by Sweeney at the angle of the goal area. And though Tueart does tend to overact a little in these situations, this appeared to be a valid claim.
Kerr, Porterfield and Chambers had established command in midfield and with Malone and Watson pushing forward at every opportunity there was both power on depth in Sunderland’s attack.
The first serious call of the game on Montgomery came in the early seconds of the second half, when a Fear cross from the left was met at the far post by Tainton. He caught Montgomery racing along his line to cover and headed wide of him, but the Sunderland goalkeeper managed to get one hand to the ball and the clearance was made by Coleman.
Up to this point Hughes, in great form, had been the player with the most goal-front menace, but he was now joined by Tueart, whose sizzling runs and fierce shooting threatened to tear the City defence apart.
He was a chance-maker, too and in a hectic spell Bond earned his rating as City’s man of the match by keeping out the shots rained upon him by Tueart and Hughes.
The pattern had become so much a non-stop battle on the approaches to goal that the Ashton Gate crowd was understandably shocked when centre half Rodgers was taken off and replaced by Spiring, a striker.
There was no immediate relief for City though Spiring managed to make one break after side-stepping a Horswill challenge, but when he hammered the ball into the middle Hughes was back to head away for a corner.
Then in the 84th minute came the match-winning break. Sweeney crossed from the left and Montgomery rushed at least 12 yards out of goal into a ruck of players in an effort to fist away.
The ball travelled no further than the edge of the penalty area and was pushed through for Gow, who sent it hard and low into the middle, where Galley, two yards from the line and falling, stuck out a foot to turn it home.
In the little time remaining, Lathan led the boldest challenge for a game-saving goal when beating off the close attentions of Drysdale in a run from the right to get in a shot which looked like beating Bond. The goalkeeper got one hand to the ball, however, and recovered well enough to collect it before Lathan could follow up.
With Chambers picking up well after two indifferent games, there was a well-combined effort from midfield, where Kerr and Porterfield ensured that the output from this section carried a bonus for both attack and defence.
At the front, Tueart and Hughes were in fine form, with Hughes approaching a personal best, while Lathan’s brave and tireless running brought a lot of anxiety to the home defence.
Watson’s great all-round effort was exciting because it stamped him as a player who can take charge of the defensive action and yet still push forward with the flair of a player who knows all the requirements in the advanced positions.
Horswill rediscovered the composure which has not been quite so evident in recent games, but while Malone could be well pleased with his contribution, there was less assurance in Coleman’s performance.
Montgomery, who was called upon to make only one really good save, was not blameless over the break which gave City their match-winning goal.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on November 27 1972.