BECAUSE they kept on fighting when they could have been excused for believing that their last game-saving chance had gone, Sunderland were rewarded with two goals which swept them into a winning position with only seconds to go against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Saturday. It was a result which no one would have forecast after Portsmouth had led 2-1 for over half an your from the 54th minute. Yet for Sunderland there was a measure of justice and encouragement in this 3-2 win.
Justice lay in the fact that theirs was a triumph over tactics dedicated by desperation and largely unnoticed by the referee, encouragement came from a second away win of the season which ended a nine-game sequence without a win ... home or away. Pompey played it hard because they have to and if this was a sample of their form they have good reason to be worried. Several times this season Sunderland have played much better and lost. After being shaken by late smash-and-grab goals which gave victory to Bristol City and Burnley, here was the reminder that hard work gains it own reward. And, in any case, a break of this kind in Sunderland’s favour was long overdue.
Manager Bob Stokoe welcomed it as a confidence booster for his players. “These long runs without a win can be very depressing for a team. Chins can go down and confidence suffers. But the manner of this win was tremendous and it must give them a big lift.”
He must have been impressed too, by the manner in which players responded to new assignments. The “little adjustment” in all three sections sent Kerr up with the strikers, Horswill into midfield and McGiven into the back four to give very useful performances indeed.
All three will expect to do better still at the next opportunity, and the manner in which they tacked their jobs on Saturday suggests that they probably will.
It was perhaps ironic that Watson should claim his first goal of the season give games after moving back from centre forward to centre half. But it was an event which should surprise no one, for Watson is clearly enjoying his game in the centre of defence and when he goes forward to join in attacks from corners and set positions, there seems to be extra zest in his challenge.
His switch to attack for the last 20 minutes was a big factor in the final swing in Sunderland’s favour.
Kerr, Tueart and Hughes had taken a lot of punishment in unsuccessful attempts to pen up the Portsmouth defence, but when Watson arrived on the scene there was a big change. He was not such an easy target for tough tactics, but a bigger factor was that he was able to lure Pompey’s big men out of the middle and create space for the Sunderland strikers.
In the first half hour the greater menace came from Sunderland, who went close with an overhead kick by Tueart when a Porterfield corner was headed into the middle by Watson and again when Horn made an acrobatic save from a well-timed header by Hughes.
But they had also to recover from the shock of seeing Reynolds follow through dangerously as Montgomery went down to gather a back pass from McGiven. Fortunately the injury was not serious and Montgomery was able to continue.
Before they took the lead in the 36th minute, Sunderland were near to a goal when Malone stormed through after his free-kick had been returned to him and nearer still when Horswill accepted an opportunity to close the range and hammer in a left-foot drive, which Horn managed to turn over the bar.
Chambers took the kick and when the ball was headed on, Watson collected it outside the far post and turned to drive the ball just under the bar, with Collins making a vain attempt to keep it out.
Six minutes later Portsmouth drew level with a penalty kick which was so hotly disputed that Chambers was booked for his show of dessent.
The situation arose when Jennings was sent away on the left by Piper and from his centre Horn looked a certain scorer when he closed in with only Montgomery to beat. His shot was struck hard enough but Montgomery dived to his right to make a brilliant save. He was unable to hold the ball, however, and when Reynolds dashed in McGiven was there to challenge.
Sunderland’s complaint was that Reynolds had acted the part without being touched, but he did it well enough to convince the referee, who awarded a penalty kick, from which Lewis, a 28th minute substitute for McCann, scored an equalising goal.
Portsmouth, who made little show as an attacking force in the first half, shaped a little better in the second, with Piper calling the tune, but they had a lucky escape when a great ball by Chambers sent Tueart clear to shoot narrowly wide as Horn advanced rapidly from the line.
Portsmouth broke quickly from this attack to take the lead in the 54th minute. Jennings made all the running on the left after beating Malone and when his angled drive came back across the goal-front from the far post he followed up to stab the ball into goal after Montgomery had dived out.
There was a significant change in Sunderland’s pattern when Tones took over as substitute for Chamber, Tones went into the back four and released Watson to go forward into attack.
Sunderland began to move with greater authority, though without being able to make the best use of space created on the approaches to goal. Then in the 87th minute Watson forced the corner which was to bring a dramatic change in the course of the game.
Kerr made it a short one to Chambers, whose cross was headed against the bar by Porterfield for Hughes to head home the rebound in fine style.
Horn had to cover a fierce drive by Tones before a brilliantly-judged pass by Malone set up the winning goal. The ball reached Tueart wide on the right, with Horn having been caught in two minds, and when Tueart crossed it into the middle Kerr dived in to head home from close range.
Seconds after the kick-off which followed this goal the game ended.
Defeat was a bitter blow to Portsmouth, who were also saddened by the attendance figures of 5,783, lowest of the season at Fratton Park. Sunderland have only once played before a smaller gate in League football since the war. That was a Bolton in April, 1971, when there were 5,678 onlookers.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on December 11 1972.