Ha’way Back When: Sunderland’s Easter rising as beaten Manchester United boss hails the ‘team of the future’

Kevin Arnott (left) turns away to celebrate putting Sunderland ahead against Manchester United in their dramatic Easter win in 1977. Pictures by Ken Parker.
Kevin Arnott (left) turns away to celebrate putting Sunderland ahead against Manchester United in their dramatic Easter win in 1977. Pictures by Ken Parker.
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Sunderland 2 Manchester United 1 – April 11, 1977

Jimmy Adamson’s Sunderland fighters completed the biggest Easter in many years with a magnificent victory over Manchester United.

In the Wearsiders’ third game in four days, on Easter Monday, Sunderland ought to have been on their knees, but they produced an exhilarating performance, particularly in the first half, which had United boss Tommy Docherty purring about the hosts.

Kevin Arnott gets ready to pounce to score after United keeper Alex Stepney spills the ball.

Kevin Arnott gets ready to pounce to score after United keeper Alex Stepney spills the ball.

The experienced Scot described Sunderland as “the team of the future” after seeing his men go down to goals from midfielders Kevin Arnott and Tony Towers.

Sunderland, fresh from drawing 2-2 with Newcastle on Good Friday and 1-1 at Leeds the following day, climbed to seventh-bottom spot in Division One to bolster their survival hopes, although, incredibly, they were level five other clubs, including two of the bottom three.

It was a demanding challenge to face fifth-top United, but Argus reported: “Such was their contribution to an exciting encounter, particularly in a brilliant first half, that there was no denying their entitlement to a win.

“This was the final test in a series of five magnificent games between the sides this season in league and League Cup and the most important for Sunderland.

Tony Towers converts Sunderland's penalty winner, watched by United's David McCreery

Tony Towers converts Sunderland's penalty winner, watched by United's David McCreery

“It was an entirely new experience for the Sunderland youngsters to be pitted against a team possessing so many distinctive qualities, and, to their credit, they came through it in fine style.”

A passionate atmosphere had the teams up for the game from the off, and Sunderland could have gone ahead in the second minute, when United keeper Alex Stepney had to grab the ball at the second attempt on the line after Mel Holden’s drive was flicked on inside the six-yard box.

But Sunderland were back to grab a third-minute opener when Towers sent Joe Bolton racing away down the left.

When he drove a ferocious ball into the danger area, Stepney could not hold on and Arnott gleefully stepped in to finish off with a neat strike.

Sunderland take on Manchester United on Easter Monday, 1977

Sunderland take on Manchester United on Easter Monday, 1977

United hit back strongly, with Stewart Houston forcing Barry Siddall into a fine save before they levelled on 15 minutes, courtesy of a penalty.

David McCreery looked like getting away from Shaun Elliott, but he was pulled down from behind and Gordon Hill slammed home the resulting spotkick.

Sunderland had been pegged back in the previous two Easter games, but they quickly regained their advantage, with a penalty of their own on 19 minutes.

Holden was sandwiched by Jimmy Nicholl and Martin Buchan inside the box, and Towers hit home his third goal of the season from the spot – with all three coming against United.

In association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

In association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Towers and Arnott went close to increasing the lead, before the latter was forced off to be replaced by 18-year-old Mike Coady, who had only made his first-team debut against Leeds two days earlier.

Tension grew in the closing stages, with Hill, booked earlier, lucky not to be sent off for a shocking foul on Mick Docherty, while Arthur Albiston and Hill both missed great chances for the visitors.

Boss Adamson was thrilled with the result, the perfect lift going into a crucial clash with fellow strugglers Tottenham.

He said: “United are a very good side and I was delighted with the way we shaped against them.

I could not have asked for more.

“We slowed it down a bit at the finish, but I make no excuses for that.

Those two points were very important to us.”

Sunderland: Siddall, Docherty, Bolton, Arnott (Coady), Waldron, Ashurst, Towers, Elliott, Holden, Lee, Rowell

Manchester United: Stepney, Nicholl, Houston, McIlroy, Greenhoff, Buchan, Coppell, McCreery, Pearson, Macari (Albiston), Hill

Ref: Keith Hackett (Sheffield)

Att: 38,785