SUNDERLAND are at their best playing positive football and taking on a side which has the same approach to the game. It was not surprising, therefore, that they looked rather untidy in their failure to deny one point to highly proficient spoilers, Preston NE. The pattern of Preston’s play had a great deal in common with that of Portsmouth, who a week earlier had tried unsuccessfully to kick their way to a point. Since Saturday’s game ended in a 0-0 draw, Preston could congratulate themselves on achieving what they set out to do.
It was a game which will not be remembered for its football content, for the entertainment standard has not been lower this season. But it will be recorded as a unique occasion in Roker history, with four players, booked, two penalties missed, and the manager and trainer of the opposing side given specified cautions by the referee.
Sunderland’s established qualities were all on view. There was unstinted effort from every position with a readiness to chase and challenge giving them more possession than the opposition were able to claim. They were tighter in defence, due largely to Watson’s pace and coverage and to the first-class work of Montgomery. And, in keeping with the recent trend, they managed to carve out more and better chances without being able to turn any of them to account.
Other games this season have been tilted more heavily in Sunderland’s favour without the desired effect, so perhaps the disappointment on this occasion will go no further than the usual sense of frustration. But it has happened too often for there to be any doubt on the score that there is a quality gap in midfield and attack which does not look like closing.
By his team selection, Manager Bob Stokoe has been asking a few questions and the value of games such as this one is that he gets the answers which will help him in the task of putting together a formation which will produce the pattern of play which he has in mind. Experienced playing resources are so limited that there are not many alternatives available to him. And it becomes more difficult still to improve both performance, and image against teams with no higher aim than Preston when playing away from home.
Centre half Hawkins, outstanding member of a hard-hitting Preston defence, might well have given Sunderland a flying start in the early minutes when he turned a Hughes cross inches wide of his own goals as Horswill stormed through on the blind side.
The first booking came in 13 minutes when a late and high tackle by Bird brought down Hughes, who had already played the ball past him.
Focus switched to the Preston trainer’s box after the referee had ruled a goal-kick when Tones and Tarbuck tangled in a run to the line wide on the right. By pointing to the stands, the official indicated that a repetition of whatever offence has been committed would result in banishment from the touch-line.
Next McIlmoyle was booked after being pulled up for a push on Watson. The offence did not merit such action and it seemed likely that he had shown dissent.
Then came the two best scoring efforts of the half. First it was Tueart, cleverly controlling a lobbed through ball from McGiven to switch inside of Connor and make space for a right-foot shot which bounced on the bar before going behind.
Preston followed with a break on the right which had McIlmoyle going on from a Wilson pass to make a well-controlled cross, which was delicately flicked wide of Montgomery by Tarbuck from the near post. Montgomery dived back along his line to push the ball out for Malone to complete the clearance.
Kerr was only inches wide with a shot which had Kelly beaten and then the Preston keeper saved a certain goal by diving out to intercept a Malone cross which looked like reaching Kerr just short of the line.
Two minutes into the second half, Kerr was booked for a foul on McMahon and two minutes later Tarbuck’s name went into the referee’s book for a foul on Coleman.
There was a lucky break for Sunderland when a Bruce shot bounced in front of Montgomery and went behind for a corner off the goalkeeper’s arms, but it seemed that their luck had run out when, following a kick, the referee awarded Preston a penalty without giving any indication of the offence.
There should have been inspiration for Sunderland when Montgomery, diving to his left, gathered Bruce’s spot kick juts inside the post. But rising spirits were knocked flat again six minutes later when Tueart, pulled down by Bird inside the penalty area took the kick himself only to be yards off target after sending Kelly the wrong way.
A well judged crossfield pass by Porterfield launched Tueart into a dash for goal, but he was obstructed inside the penalty area and from Kerr’s indirect free-kick Hughes sent a diving header just wide.
With 16 minutes to go, Chambers took over from McGiven but the change had little effect. Indeed, apart from a Watson header which Kelly collected without difficulty, the Preston defence continued in charge of the situation and in the closing minutes they allowed themselves the luxury of one or two well-supported attacks in search of a winning goal.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on December 18 1972.