THE message from last season was that Sunderland are booked for an early return to the First Division and they will go into the new campaign confident in the knowledge that continued improvement could bring the coveted prize well within reach this season.
They need First Division football urgently, desperately. That is the heart-cry which comes from the director’s report to be submitted to the annual meeting on September 1 and it will be taken up by supporters everywhere.
They have big club facilities and accommodation, big club outlook, and potentially a following which would be the envy of everyone. But none of these can flourish against the background of Second Division football.
Winning back lost ground is a heart-breaking task, as Sunderland found when they last faced the need to fight back from an all-time low. They made it then and they must believe that they can make it again, taking encouragement from the fact that they are better equipped from a playing point of view on this occasion to climb and keep on climbing.
The dramatic decline in income and support since 1964 means that Manager Alan Brown has had little opportunity to quicken the pace of his build-up towards a team equipped to make its mark in the First Division, but he has still done a first class job in fashioning players of great potential from a school-leaving intake.
Last season, as it proved, was a little too early for his developing side to carry through a promotion challenge. Lack of maturity in several positions was a brake upon a drive which was well maintained for most of the season. The end-of-season analysis showed that failure to rise above fifth place was due more than anything else to the dropping of points at Roker Park, where, at one time, they would have been lifted to success by the “Roker Roar.”
They conceded 13 points out of 42 in their programme after achieving a championship level of a point a game from their away games.
The loss of five points in their last five home games was the crippling blow, otherwise they would have been going into their last game of the season at Fulham with a live chance of snatching second place behind Norwich City.
Because promotion, even ahead of time, was needed so desperately, this was a frustrating experience. But it was not all loss, for time may well prove that the players who were good enough to establish themselves in this period will be the backbone of side which makes the winning drive back to the top.
Dave Watson, Ian Porterfield, and Dick Malone, who were recruited at considerable cost, have taken up Sunderland’s cause to become key players in an attacking pattern which placed the team along the leading goal scorers in the Second Division last season. They are supported by eager young players who are one year nearer to their peak and are that much better prepared to work at a team pattern good enough to command the right flow of results.
Standing in the wings for the moment are club captain Martin Harvey and Bobby Park, both engaged in throwing off the effects of injuries and looking forward to an early return to action.
Harvey, who had to drop out with a cartilage injury which later needed an operation the lead at Norwich, has since after shooting his side into suffered a back injury, which now appears to be a case of disc trouble. How much longer he will have to stand down can only be guessed, but supporters can be sure that this dedicated player will be impatient to be back into the fray.
The waiting game has been a bigger ordeal for Park. He went out with a broken leg in the first game of last season and it was not until the close season that he had built up to the stage where he could think of terms of counting the weeks to his return to full-time training. There has been the set-back of a knee injury to keep him on the side-lines again, but this is a minor matter compared with the painfully slow progress which he was able to make last season.
The big success story this season could well have Dennis Tueart as a central character. His flair for the unusual and his finishing power were on show often enough to be impressive last season, but on the evidence of his early-season work he looks a still better player now.
This adds fresh dimensions to an attack which has already shown exciting possibilities. This means two-way benefit for Watson, who is skilled in making chances as he is in taking them. And if Jimmy Hamilton, emerging again from the haze of glory which surrounded this match-winning debut as a 16-year old last season, can maintain the form which he has been displaying, there will be three men at the front capable of ensuring that an adequate flow of goals is maintained.
Mr Brown has said that he will be looking for attacking play from every position and expecting goals from most of the outfield players.
Of the side which was on duty against Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park this afternoon, only Dick Malone, Joe Bolton and Mick Horswill finished last season without goals to their credit, so there must be a good chance of Mr Brown’s expectations being fulfilled.
Certainly there will be no lack of thrust from the midfield section, with Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield and Mick McGiven already established as players with the happy knack of picking up important goals. And Richie Pitt, who claimed six last season to equal Charlie Hurley’s best-ever effort in 1961-62 will surely be adding to his haul from set positions.
The heavy goal-count against the defence last season was, in part, explained by the attacking policy of the team as a whole. But improving newcomers Mick Horswill and Joe Bolton could be big factors in commanding a turn for the better.
Horswill, called upon to fill the gap left when Harvey was injured, proved himself an ideal choice for the job and he has been stepping up his game ever since he delighted everyone on making his debut in the 3–1 victory over Preston N.E. at Deepdale.
The last line of defence is safely in the hands of Jimmy Montgomery, who today started his 12th season in League football and obviously has a lot of playing seasons in front of him.
Monty has been a wonderful servant to Sunderland and as he had the thrill of keeping goal in the Sunderland side which won promotion in 1964, he will be hoping to share that thrill again. Harvey is, of course, the only other survivor of the promotion-winning side.
Story taken from the Football Echo on August 12 1972.