SUNDERLAND, confident that they are on their way back to the First Division, could be encouraged to believe that they are beginning to make progress at the gates by the substantial increase in attendance for their game against Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday.
A 17,000 turn-out is a long way short of a traditional Roker Park crowd, but it was still nearly fifty per cent up on the average of their two previous home games and the fare on offer was attractive enough to keep interest going.
They could have benefited still further if the attractive home game against Carlisle United tomorrow night has still been on the programme, for this would have been an ideal follow-up, with the “neddle” element supplied by a Northern “derby.” But Carlisle’s involvement in the Football League Cup and Liverpool’s European commitments meant that their replay had to be staged at Anfield tomorrow night, so the Roker game was put on the waiting list.
Now Sunderland have to play through away games against Huddersfield Town on Saturday and Aston Villa next Wednesday before they turn out in front of the Roker Park crowd again. And such is the attitude among their supporters that they will have to distinguish themselves at Leeds Road and Villa Park if they are to keep the promise of a surge of support going.
There could not have been a tougher start to the season for them and though it necessarily follows that balance will eventually be restored, the unbalanced programme stacks the odds against them as they pursue the twin target of gaining promotion and winning back sufficient support through the turnstiles to finance the development of the team.
On the playing side, there are grounds for optimism over the chances of gaining a promotion place this season. They do not have to claim it for themselves, because rival managers are already saying it for them. Benny Fenton (Millwall), Bob Stokoe (Blackpool) and Derek Dooley (Sheffield Wednesday) have paid the warmest tributes, not only to Sunderland’s current form, but also to their potential.
The emphasis stays on potential for the moment but there can be no denying that marked progress has been made towards putting together a side of considerable quality in the last 12 months. Last September they were not rated to be in the running for anything and the popular line of attack was to throw up Manager Alan Brown’s statement that, given a reasonable break in the matter of injuries, Sunderland had as good a chance as anyone of winning the Second Division championship.
He has already ironed out a few of the problems which kept them in fifth place last season and they are now well placed to show an improvement upon than ranking.
Commenting on the position Mr Brown told me “I think last week’s game against Sheffield Wednesday was proof enough that we are probably the most respected team in the division. Anyone who wants to write us off at this stage is a little off beam.”
The ability to resist physical challenge, which is part and parcel of the promotion battle, has been stepped up considerably too. “One or two have proved that they can stand a bit of stick and come back fighting, particularly Dick Malone, who is playing so well,” said Mr Brown.
Carrying the fight to Huddersfield Town at Leeds Road is the next task and, since this is a ground on which Sunderland have several excellent performers to their credit in recent years, they can look hopefully for a helpful result.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on September 19 1972.