SUNDERLAND Reserves enhanced their prospects of retaining the North Midlands League Championship which they won for the first time last season, with a hard earned 1–0 victory over Notts County Reserves at Roker Park last night.
Sunderland now open up a two-point lead over Middlesbrough with both clubs having completed half of their programme, but with their Teesside rivals faltering over the past few weeks, the chances of the title remaining at Roker must be good.
Sunderland have always had to fight hard for any reward in their encounters against County, and last night’s match was no exception. From the first minute when Stronach was upended by Dyer, referee Smith issued a number of lectures which had little effect on the visitors.
Not that Sunderland were blameless in this respect, but they had no culprits in the calibre of Dyer, Fenton and Ross who enjoyed the leniency of an official who failed to clamp down on their rash methods.
Sunderland had problems too, of beating the offside trap and though some of the decisions must have been very close, many a promising move broke down through Hamilton and Southwick being caught high and dry.
Leading marksmen for the Reserve and Youth sides respectively, both players are struggling to find their scoring touch and with Kent again being replaced by Shannon midway through the second half it was left to Stronach to try and inject some power up front.
With County content to play on the defensive and force the occasional break, Chambers and Ashurst were able to concentrate on attacking football, but as usual with packed defences, there was no easy path to goal.
Ron Guthrie, ineligible for Saturday’s F.A. Cup-tie at Meadow Lane, had a useful workout in his first outing for the club and though he got few opportunities to show his defensive qualities, he was quick to seize the openings when moving forward.
Tones, fighting for the vacant back four place in the senior side, dominated the middle and was almost unbeatable in the air. He received excellent support from Hugh Dowd on trial again, and with Thompson settling down to his normal game, Swinburne was rarely on call.
Although a string of offside decisions went against them in the first half hour Sunderland enjoyed the break that came their way for after a bold run down the middle by Bolton, Vinter turned the ball past Swinburne from close range only for the effort to be disallowed.
The only goal came five minutes later and it was one worthy of winning any match. After a Kent cross had been forced out, the ball was pushed back to Ashurst who hit a tremendous shot from almost 30 yards which McManus never looked like reaching.
Five minutes later Stronach cut inside and after beating two defenders set up the easiest of chances for Hamilton, who shot hastily over the bar with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Swinburne made a brave save at the feet of Vinter right on half time and five minutes after the break did well to keep out a fierce drive from Purdie.
Stronach pulled the ball back from the bye-line to Southwick who shot straight at McManus from six yards, and in the best move of the match ten minutes from time, Chambers and Stronach had shooting chances before Southwick put wide from close range.
Stronach was brought down 20 yards from goal and when he touched the free-kick to Ashurst, the ball just cleared the bar with McManus beaten.
Sunderland Reserves: Swinburne, Thompson, Guthrie, Dowd, Tones, Ashurst, Stronach, Chambers, Southwick, Hamilton, Kent. (Shannon).
Notts County Reserves: McManus, Richards, Dyer, Fenton, Jones, Ross, Newell, (Smith), Bolton, Vinter, Purdie, Scanlon.
Referee: Mr T R M Smith (Durham).
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on January 11 1973.