Ha’way Back When: Sunderland promotion dream killed off by Chelsea’s bruisers

Sunderland striker Nick Sharkey was unable to find a way through the tough Chelsea defence
Sunderland striker Nick Sharkey was unable to find a way through the tough Chelsea defence
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Sunderland 0 Chelsea 1 – May 18, 1963

Sunderland’s promotion dream died at the final hurdle as Chelsea’s brute strength claimed a priceless victory.

The Londoners used their brawn to knock Sunderland out of their stride, taking both points thanks to a freak Tommy Harmer strike.

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

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

That moved them two points behind Sunderland, and a 7-0 midweek rout of Portsmouth saw Chelsea clinch the second promotion slot on goal difference.

Argus, rueing a second successive near miss on promotion, commented in the Echo: “The pattern of Sunderland’s bad luck is all too clear.

They have made the mistake of trying to reach their target by playing football.

“That sort of thing is almost frowned upon in the Second Division, and certainly there are no official moves to ensure that they have the chance of playing it.

“Well in advance, I warned of what Chelsea had in mind when they promoted wing-half Frank Upton, groomed in the tough Derby County school, to centre-forward.

“He was there to wreck, not create.

“No words can ease the cruel sense of disappointment felt by players, officials and supporters at falling just one goal short of promotion.

“It does not even help to plead the injustices of the game itself.

The chance was there and they failed to take it.

“They have to estimate the extent to which tough tactics prevented them from achieving their targets, as against the extent to which they allowed themselves to be rattled out of their normal game.

“One contributed as much to their defeat as the other.”

Sunderland actually had the better of a bright opening to the game before Chelsea’s strongarm tactics took hold.

Johnny Crossan was out of luck with a diving header, then fired just wide before George Herd forced Peter Bonetti into an outstanding save.

But Chelsea made the breakthrough on 25 minutes with a freakish goal to match the way Swansea ended Sunderland’s promotion hopes in 1962.

Bobby Tambling curled in an inswinging corner from the right, it kept low, bounced in front of Len Ashurst and flew past the left-back before hitting Harmer in the stomach and rising into the roof of the net.

It was only the 13th goal conceded at home by Sunderland all season.

Chelsea duly closed the game down, sitting back and allowing Sunderland to play the second half almost exclusively in the visitors’ half.

The Rokermen had had problems all season dealing with the brawny approacf of opposition teams, and Chelsea’s impressive defence kept them at bay without much of a problem – while Tambling could have three times increased the lead on the break.

Argus wrote: “Sunderland’s players insisted upon trying to close the range for a make-sure shot, instead of risking it.

The mood changed near the end with time running short, a brilliant backward header by Sharkey and a Mulhall snapshot going close.

“But they were nearer still in the three minutes allowed for stoppages.

“Mulhall snapped up a Nelson pass to direct a powerful shot just inside the post, but Bonetti, diving to the right at full stretch, managed to fingertip the ball wide for a corner.

When Mulhall’s kick was headed just over the bar by Herd, the last chance had gone.”

The crowd of 47,955 was a disappointment, and the streets around the ground were virtually deserted at kick-off. but thousands had arrived in late morning to make sure of their place.

Queues at the Roker End turnstiles were so big at one point that police tried to persuade the crowds to head for the less heavily pressed Fulwell End, but, as the Echo reported, “many loyal Roker Enders refused to watch the game from ‘foreign parts’.”

Sunderland: Montgomery, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Davison, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall

Chelsea: Bonetti, McCreadie, Shellito, Harris, Mortimore, Venables, Tambling, Harmer, Upton, Kevan, Blunstone