SUNDERLAND extended their unbeaten sequence in League and Cup games to six at the County Ground on Saturday, when they hit back against Swindon Town to take one point from a 1–1 draw. They deserved to do so, but neither they nor Swindon will recall with any special pleasure a game on which the crowning justice was that it should have started at all.
It is bad for the game and everyone connected with it that football should be played under the conditions which prevailed. There was surface water on most of the playing area and this cancelled out all the finer arts, leaving the players of both sides to flounder through paddyfield conditions with only hazy notions of what the ball was going to do next.
Rival managers Bob Stokoe and Les Allen had strong views on the subject. Knowing that the decision to start had been made, Mr Allen was sure that half-an-hour would be sufficient to convince the referee, Mr J E Bent of Hemel Hempstead, that it would be impossible to continue. But Mr Bent, whose sporting pursuits include cross-country running, had no such thoughts and allowed the game to continue under conditions which were ideal for his alternative sport, but exposed professional footballers to ridicule.
Mr Stokoe was critical of the decision to allow the game to go on. “I would say that even if we had won, he said.
“The conditions were farcical and, in my opinion, the referee made a bad error of judgement. He made the decision to play at noon and there were three hours of heavy rain after that.
“Players should not be made to look like fools by having to play in such conditions. They are not there to be laughed at.”
Yet the mirth on the terraces contrasted sharply with the grim determination of the players to make the best of it. They succeeded in producing a fast-moving battle, packed with incident. And there was justice in the 1–1 result.
Swindon paid a big price for their point. Centre half Burrows, stretchered off after sliding into a tackle on Kerr, clashed with his goalkeeper, Allan, and it was later revealed that his injury was a punctured lung.
Then in the last few minutes Noble injured himself and though he finished the game it was found that he had a badly-torn thigh muscle.
Swindon, encouraged to believe that attacking football is their game after knocking Birmingham City out of the Cup a week earlier, took command in the early stages and brought a lot of pressure to bear on the Sunderland goal.
They thought they had a case for a penalty in three minutes when as Ashurst back pass failed to carry and Noble ran on to the ball inside the penalty area. Young went across to cover and Noble went down, but the referee gave the benefit of the doubt to the defender.
In quick succession Treacy and then Hughes were set up in perfect positions for clean breaks and had the pace to make them, but both failed because they found it impossible to drag the ball through the water at speed.
Watson, up in attack though wearing the No. 5, helped to create a chance for Malone, whose shot travelled wide. Then Hughes chased a long ball from Malone, which pulled up quickly in the water to deceive the Swindon defence. But he clashed with Allan and there was a five-man pile-up five yards out before the ball was scrambled away.
Allan made the best save of the game, diving back to hold a Tueart drive which had flashed across his body and then Montgomery came into it by diving out to grab a back-pass at Treacy’s feet.
Swindon went ahead in 28 minutes, when Jenkins forced a corner on the left. He took the kick himself and when this was forced out to the edge of the penalty area Butler hit a powerful shot which Montgomery, ankle deep in mud, was unable to reach.
Allan made excellent saves from Tueart and Hughes and just before the break he was in action again, going up to hold a Watson cross which would have presented Hughes, at the other side of the goal, with the easiest of chances.
In the early minutes of the second half, Sunderland had to cover up desperately when a freak bounce of the ball sent Noble clear on the right and then Treacy missed a great chance from a Moss centre after the ball had come back into play from the corner flag.
Sunderland’s pressure began to mount mid-way through the half and after Burrows had been replaced by Porter and Lathan had taken over from Kerr, the balance of play tilted in their favour.
Porterfield and Horswill pushed forward more strongly to keep the swing going and there was reward in the 78th minute when Tueart’s persistence gained a corner on the left. When Tueart’s kick was headed down by Hughes there was a fierce scramble in front of goal and Porterfield managed to stab the ball through just inside the near post.
Although Watson dropped back into defence at this point, Sunderland’s attack did not lose its momentum and the determined work of Hughes and Tueart kept alive the hope that there might still be another goal to come.
Sunderland came through this searching physical test extremely well, taking top marks for effort and courage, which were the qualities in heaviest demand.
Guthrie would have wished for better conditions in which to make his debut, but he still gave an impressive performance to bear out the promise that he and Young are going to give valuable service to the Sunderland defence.
Along with Horswill, Ashurst and Malone kept a tight grip on the situation when Swindon were throwing everything into attack.
Watson was a star performer, both in attack and defence, and under the farcical conditions the challenging play of Kerr, Porterfield, Hughes and Tueart created a lot of problems for the Swindon defence.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on January 22 1973.