Ha’way Back When: Sunderland battlers off the bottom with welcome first win

Bob Lee hit his first Sunderland goal at Coventry.
Bob Lee hit his first Sunderland goal at Coventry.
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Covenrty City 1 Sunderland 2 – October 30, 1976

Sunderland climbed off the bottom of the First Division table after finally securing their first win of the season – at the 11th attempt.

Caretaker boss Ian MacFarlane, in charge for the second time since taking over from Bob Stokoe, had his men fired up from the off for the visit to mid-table Coventry City, and the Rokermen got their just rewards.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Argus enthused in the Echo: “Throughout the Sunderland side, there was an air of resolution which enabled them, by hard running, to deny space to the opposition and make the best use of what they could gain for themselves.

“Everyone was prepared to accept responsibility and though, by the book, they played with only two strikers and four men in midfield, attacks were supported quickly.

“Equally, the midfielders helped to take the strain in defence when they were needed, to make it a solid-looking formation, against which Coventry struggled furiously without ever appearing likely to take charge.”

MacFarlane’s positive approach brought a much-improved performance in his first match in control, the previous week’s 2-0 defeat at QPR, and the team maintained that desire to finally pick up two points.

Sunderland had managed just one goal in their previous five matches, but Billy Hughes’s return added strength to the visitors’ attacking options, and the Wearsiders were positive from the first whistle.

Hughes forced home keeper Jim Blyth to make a fine save in the first minute, after good link-up play with Alan Foggon and Ray Train.

Train shot over the bar as Sunderland kept pressing, then Hughes headed a Tony Towers cross wide.

Sunderland’s bright start paid off with a 14th-minute opener.

Train, who played a vital role in midfield throughout, robbed Terry Yorath near halfway and timed his through pass perfectly for Bob Lee.

The centre-forward did not even need to check his stride as he ran on to crack a great shot which left Blyth helpless, for his first goal in red and white since joining from Leicester.

Sunderland were comfortable at the other end of the table, despite a couple of scares from the lively Murphy, and they regrouped at half-time, confidently going on to double their lead two minutes into the second half.

Train again won a challenge with Coventry star Yorath and moved it on quickly.

Lee sent the ball on for Hughes, who seemed to be pinned down by a tight ring of home defenders, but he managed to work his way clear.

Racing towards the middle, he jinked his way between the centre-backs and sent a left-footed drive across Blyth and just inside the right-hand post to send the travelling fans wild, dreaming of a much-needed first victory.

Sunderland almost added a third within two minutes after good work from Hughes and Lee led to Roy Greenwood stepping in to fire in a right-foot shot, but Blyth produced a magnificent save to deny the busy winger.

Barry Siddall maintained his composure in the visitors’ goal, content behind a dominant centre-back pairing of Jim Holton and Jeff Clarke, but that all changed six minutes from time when Coventry got back into the game as striker Mick Ferguson headed home Beck’s right-wing cross.

Coventry threw extra bodies forward as they pushed hard for a leveller, and Sunderland made life hard for themselves with a couple of clearances which merely caused more problems, but they held on, creditably, to climb above West Ham into second-bottom spot.

Coventry City: Blyth, Coop, McDonald, Yorath, Dugdale, Holmes (Wallace 46), Beck, Murphy, Ferguson, Powell, Hutchinson

Sunderland: Siddall, Malone, Bolton, Towers, Clarke, Holton, Greenwood, Hughes (Kerr 78), Lee, Train, Foggon

Att: 17,184.