JOHNNY Crossan kept Sunderland in with a shout for promotion, bagging a clinical hat-trick as Southampton were ruthlessly put to the sword.
The Rokermen moved level with second-top Chelsea, leaving Argus in little doubt that Sunderland had finally shrugged off the nervous tension which had bedevilled their play for months, almost throughout the arduous winter of 1963.
Crossan stole the show as the hosts ended a five-match winless streak, and grabbed only a second win in 11 games - on the day that leaders Stoke suffered a surprise defeat to Scunthorpe, opening up the hunt for the two promotion spots.
Argus enthused: “This was vintage football by a Sunderland side which was full of running power. Crossan took on the role of striker with pronounced success, while George Herd, quicker and more mobile than ever, kept the attack moving sweetly with his distinctive brand of soccer sorcery.
“Overall, it was the sort of performance which entitles the Sunderland players to go confidently into their vital games at Swansea and Luton. Sunderland, in this form, can see it through and put themselves in a position to make sure of promotion against Chelsea on the last day of the season.
“More than ever, I am convinced that the turning point came with the own goal concession at Scunthorpe (four days earlier). It shocked them out of their faltering, make-sure complex and brought all the craft and confidence flooding back into the side.”
Southampton had their moments, matching Sunderland’s dash at times and belying their lowly position, forcing Jimmy Montgomery into a series of fine saves.
Crossan made the breakthrough in the 17th minute, and he doubled the advantage just two minutes later. The opener followed great work from Herd and Jimmy Davison in winning a corner. Davison sent over the flag-kick to the far post, where Charlie Hurley nodded down and Crossan stepped in to flick home a close-range shot.
The second followed a Stan Anderson free-kick on the edge of the box, with his left-footed lob met at the far post by Crossan, who headed back across keeper Reynolds and into the net.
Argus failed the Irishman, writing: “His wonderful eye for position showed in both instances, and his delicate touches right in front of goal were just right.”
Crossan sustained a foot injury in a late, fierce challenge by Huxford, but he carried on bravely and got his rewards in the second half, when a further two Sunderland goals came in quick succession.
Saints were killed off at 3-0 in the 59th minute in stunning style. Davison headed down a brilliantly judged pass from Andy Kerr as he broke over the halfway line and set off on a 40-yard gallop towards goal. He raced up to the advancing Reynolds and, on the edge of the box, planted his shot firmly inside the left-hand post.
Three minutes later, Crossan completed his second hat-trick of the season. George Mulhall was too deep with his left-wing cross, but Kerr worked wonders to keep the ball in, going up under pressure and nodding back into the middle for Crossan, in the right place at the right time again, to slam home from close range.
Kerr enjoyed his best performance in red and white. Argus wrote: “The unlucky man was Kerr, who laid the ball off intelligently and had a big hand in two of the goals. To mark his fine, all-round effort I would like to have seen at least one of his terrific 25-yard drives go in.”