ROKER REFLECTIONS: First team pool is given overdue boost

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ALTHOUGH he did not fill in any details at the time, Manager Bob Stokoe obviously had one or two cards up his sleeve when he forecast that Sunderland “would go like a bomb in the second half of the season.”

Nor did he realise in making this pre-flu epidemic statement that he would have three extra games switched from the first half programme to provide increased opportunity for a successful climb away from trouble with a strengthened side.

Making up for lost time after being out of action for a fortnight through a particularly severe attack of flu, he immediately set in motion on his return last week-end his drive for action and achievement.

Tuesday was the key day. From a lunch-time meeting with Chairman Keith Collings and members of the board he was given the go-ahead to recruit the experienced players whom he considers are needed to boost strength and maturity in.

Within 24 hours he was angling for three players and, thanks to the helpful attitude of Newcastle United manager, Mr Joe Harvey, had the satisfaction of reaching agreement in a deal for the signing of two players who fitted his requirements.

The one who got away was former Roker favourite John O’Hare, capped 13 times by Scotland since his transfer to Derby County. Going strictly by the book, a written offer was forwarded to County manager, Mr Brian Clough. When this was rejected, Mr Stokoe considered increasing the offer, but it was later decided to withdraw the offer and thank Derby for considering it in the first place.

The success story concerned two Newcastle United players who through force of circumstances have been compelled to play a waiting game behind a strong first team pool on Tyneside.

David Young and Ron Guthrie, mature defenders with a lot of top-class experience, were lined up in a bargain package deal for £35,000 and though flu halted completion of the Guthrie transfer, Young was duly signed and was on call for his debut against Brighton this afternoon.

Mr Stokoe hopes to bring the deal to a successful conclusion by signing Guthrie on Monday.

Both Young and Guthrie are worthy of first team football and would have enjoyed it on a regular basis with any other club. But the formidable barriers to their progress have been two well-established players in Moncur and Frank Clark, who have so consistently contributed to Newcastle United’s success.

There have been several transfers in reverse, but apart from Paddy Lowrey who was freed as a junior, Young is the first player transferred from Newcastle to Sunderland since they signed Len Shackleton 25 years ago. There is, however, a strong Newcastle-born pool on the Roker staff, consisting of Dennis Tueart, Mick McGiven, Brian Chambers, Derek Forder, Ken and Mick Henderson and Tommy Mason.

Well pleased with a deal which adds experience and maturity to defence in his first team pool, Mr Stokoe is now looking for the men who can give a similar boost to attacking strength. The continuing search for the right man is now being stepped up and it should not be too long before there is further activity.

“I know that we have a wonderful starting point,” says Mr Stokoe, “and we have some great young players coming on. But a couple of experienced men in attack would bring the best out of lads like Billy Hughes and Dennis Tueart and set the whole job alight.”

“We have to accept that, right at this moment, we have a relegation fight on our hands, but we can sort this out in good time and give people something to talk about.”

His confidence that Sunderland are all set to start the climb back to the big-time is infectious. “The atmosphere could not be better,” he says, “and I am absolutely confident that we are now ready to start going forward in a big way.”

The next important target for Sunderland is to seek the morale boost which would go with a good run in the F.A. Cup. The starting point is a visit to Notts County in a Third Round tie next week and there can be no doubt that they will find it tough going at the Meadow Lane ground.

The Sunderland players should be well briefed on their task, for Mr Stokoe was at Bolton last week to see Notts County pull back to a 2–2 draw after being 2–0 down at half-time.

County are having only a moderate season in the Third Division after being just pipped for promotion last season, but the form which they displayed in reaching the quarter-final of the Football League Cup this season stamps them as a side of considerable merit.

There was nothing exceptional about their home wins over York City and Southport in the earlier rounds, but they had everyone sitting up and taking notice when they handed out a 3–1 hiding to Southampton at The Dell. They went one better in the next round by dismissing the holders, Stoke City, again by 3–1, and put up a bold show before going down by 3–1 to Chelsea in the quarter final.

Sunderland have acquitted themselves well away from home on many occasions this season and they will be all out to making this a winning challenge. If there has to be a replay this will take place at Roker Park on Tuesday, January 16.

Lather this month, Sunderland youth team will be bidding for a place in the quarter final of the F.A. Youth Cup. The 4th round pairings announced in mid-week gives them home advantage over Huddersfield Town.

Story taken from the Football Echo on January 6 1973.