SUNDERLAND Manager, Mr Alan Brown, must be well pleased with the fact that he has been able to keep his team within reach of the promotion pace-makers during a crowded opening programme which seemed balanced so heavily against them.
With only three home games out of the first nine, the popular guess must have been that Sunderland would be well down the table by the time they had played through that sequence. Instead, they are very much in the running and all set to close the range.
Although the results could have been better, there has not been any reason for despondency over the chance of making this season the occasion for a triumphant return to the First Division. Quite the contrary.
The nine-game opening began and ended with away defeats, but the extent to which they have built up their game is measured by the gulf between the form displayed in going down to Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park on the first day of the season and the display which earned them a standing ovation at Villa Park on Wednesday night.
As a team, Sunderland are now going forward at a great pace. The younger players are pulling out everything expected of them to keep the surge going and the pattern developing stamps them as one of the most exciting team in the Second Division.
Their misfortune is that the displays which have won the greatest acclaim have all been away from home, where their habit of going at the opposition has gained considerable profit so far and will earn them a lot of valuable points for the remainder of the season.
One of these days – oh, let it be soon! – Roker Park visitors will lose the obsession for negative, spoiling football and the home crowd will then be given a full share of the exiting football which Sunderland have been able to produce on their travels.
There is nothing more certain than that all Sunderland’s problems over box-office attractions would disappear completely and they would be back in the entertainment business in a big way.
That 2-0 defeat at Villa Park was a cruel decision in view of the extent to which Sunderland dominated the game. For those who were not present to get the full flavour of the performance, there is the obvious come-back that playing well is pointless unless the reward of goals is being claimed. This is quite true, of course, and it is a matter of real concern for the players themselves that they can take command so decisively for long spells without getting the ball into the opposing net.
But goals will surely flow again as they did last season, if this high standard of work can be maintained.
Neither Dave Watson nor Bobby Kerr, who scored 22 goals between them last season, have managed to hit the same scoring form so far and this is a state of affairs which cannot last much longer. They are applying themselves so well to their specialist task in building up attacking moves that it is only a question of time before they start banging them in again.
Kerr has hit only one before today’s game at Watson, who has still to open his account, finds himself so tightly marked – and punished – that scoring chances are few and far between.
Both Dennis Tueart and John Lathan have been able to cash in on the extra attention accorded to Watson and this has eased the situation to some extent. But the breakthrough to an adequate rate of scoring will be necessary before the benefits begin to flow from a positive line of play which is winning the greatest respect.
Life does not get any easier for Mick McGiven, a whole-hearted player who gets himself so engrossed in a game that apparent injustice is always likely to bring instant reaction. It is a fault he must learn to cure, of course, and in these days when dissent seems to be rated as big an offence as the worst of fouls he will continue to suffer until he finds the answer.
But there was a lot of sympathy for him at Leeds Road last week, when he was booked for dissent in the first half against Huddersfield and then sent off for a tackle which was made to appear far worse than it really was.
Thus in the course of one game he collected his third booking of the season and then a dismissal. The official reports on the incidents have been considered by the player and he has now decided to appeal.
If the appeal is upheld, he will still be liable to a two-match suspension on his penalty points count, but in any event it has still to be decided whether the sending off would stand on its own, or whether it would be rated as a fourth booking.
Next on Sunderland’s programme is a seventh away game of the season a week today, when they are due to visit Oxford United. The compact little Manor Road ground with a pronounced slope from end to end, has been an unhappy arena for many visiting sides, particularly this season, when United has won all four of their home games and hit nine goals against two.
Sunderland ran into a lot of trouble there last season, when they wilted under intense down-the-slope pressure – just as they did at Brighton five week ago – and could have suffered a much heavier defeat than 2-0.
They will have to be on their guard against a repeat performance next week. Oxford, well placed in the promotion race are evidently in good form, but these are the kind of games which Sunderland must be winning if they are going to land the promotion prize.
The Sunderland club’s commercial manager, Mr Dan Eaton, is to end his four-year association with the club early next month, when he will be returning to the organisation from which he joined the Roker staff and is expected, eventually to take up an appointment with West Ham United.
His successor, Mr Gordon Dimbleby, a 42-year-old Yorkshireman, starts the job in a fortnight’s time and will have Mr Eaton’s guidance for about a month before the change-over is completed.
Mr Dimbleby, who had an appointment with Doncaster Rovers at one time, is currently commercial manager to Northampton Town and has also been undertaking the duties of secretary.
Story taken from the Football Echo on September 30 1972.