Sunderland’s change for better came much too late

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HAVING virtually thrown the game away by an inept display in the first half, Sunderland could not complain if it seemed that luck went against them late in the second half after they had accomplished the mammoth task of fighting back to equality against Carlisle United at Brunton Park on Saturday. For just fives minutes there was the illusion that they were going to commit daylight robbery by stealing a point with a 3-3 draw but justice was served when United scrambled home a fourth and winning goal seven minutes from the end.

Carlisle had the edge in many respects. Strength and maturity counted heavily in their favour under the worst conditions encountered so far. They added to this advantage by a less complicated use of the ball, with short, accurate ground passing taking much of the sting out of icy blast. And their fierce determination to dominate in midfield had them 3-1 up at half-time and all set to hand out a lot more punishment in the second half. It did not work out that way, because Sunderland came up with a fresh approach and were left wondering what the outcome might have been if they had organised themselves better in the first half.

Sharper challenge and a better workrate in midfield brought a levelling off of play in this vital region. A good deal of weight was lifted from a struggling defence and the wings were used well enough to bringing greater method into the attacking pattern.

It was a notable change for the better, but it came too late against such odds ad the 2-1 advantage which marked their improvement in the second half was not enough to swing the overall balance.

So the unhappy sequence continues. Only two points have been claimed from their last six games and though they are capable of considerably better results, the fact remains that they are now only one point above the relegation position, with a fight on their hands. Only one other club in the bottom eight failed to show profit from Saturday’s games and their immediate programme, starting with this week’s home game against improving Hull City, has a formidable look about it.

It may be more realistic of course, to consider that they are only four points behind seventh-placed Sheffield Wednesday with two home games in hand, but there can be no comfort until they have pulled out of the current dive and started to climb again.

If the assessment on Watson’s switch from attack to defence had to be based on the first half, it could only be regarded as a failure. His strength and industry were sorely missed at the front and he found lots of problems in an out-of-touch defence in which the usually dependable and resolute Horswill could do little right.

Afterwards it was different. All the problems were not solved by the better performance in midfield, but Watson became very much the man in charge in defence. And though he did not always make the best use of the ball, his individual improvement was the factor which made it less easy for United to penetrate.

United had the ideal player to turn midfield space and freedom to account in Balderstone, backed by the ball-winning skill of Ternent. Most of the danger sprang from this talented pair.

It was a perfectly-timed 30-yard pass by Balderstone which opened up the Sunderland defence for United’s first goal in nine minutes. Owen was unmarked and on the run when the ball reached him and he had only to keep going and crack his shot past the helpless Montgomery.

Within seconds Sunderland could have been level, when Chambers broke on the right to drive the ball into the middle, where Kerr’s first-time shot flashed narrowly wide. But six minutes later United were back for a second goal, with Montgomery again left without cover as Martin raced through to slam home an angled drive.

Sunderland’s modest reply was a drive by Tueart which just cleared a post and they lived dangerously while Train squandered a good chance by shooting wide from close range and Laidlaw shot into the side netting before they were able to open their account.

Kerr was pulled back as he approached the penalty area and from the free-kick, which was tapped square, Porterfield hit a drive which was deflected in the “wall” and out of Clarke’s reach.

This came in the 37th minute, but the inspiration of it was lost within a minute when Gorman, exploiting the midfield space, raced through the middle to crack United’s third goal with a 20-yard drive which Montgomery never looked like reaching.

Hughes ran hard and to greater purpose in the early stages of the second half and Porterfield, who had consistently used the ball well began to coat a better response all round.

Uncertainty between Horswill and Coleman led to Montgomery being injured when he jumped in to snatch the ball away from Owen and seconds later he was making his best save of the game, diving to his left to palm away a Balderstone shot.

When Clarke dropped a Kerr corner without either Hamilton or Porterfield being able to accept the change, there was the hint of profit to come, but it was not claimed until after Hamilton had been replaced by Lathan in the 72nd minute.

Four minutes later Hughes forced a corner on the right and when Clarke dropped Porterfield’s inswinger Lathan was well placed to ram the ball into goal.

It was Lathan’s spadework which produced the equaliser four minutes later, for he hustled Gorman who slipped as he tried to turn. Lathan promptly stepped in and when his cross was touched on by Hughes, Porterfield quickly pushed the ball past Clarke.

With seven minutes to go, Montgomery turned a long shot over the bar and when Balderstone’s corner was headed against the bar, Ternent was in position to head the winning goal at the far post.

Porterfield was Sunderland’s outstanding performer over the 90 minutes, though the task of enlivening the proceeding to any marked extent in the first half was beyond him.

There was better application later from Hughes, Kerr and Tueart, but neither Chambers nor Hamilton made the impact expected of them.

Malone was at his best going forward, apart from a tendency to hold the ball into trouble instead of accepting the simple way out of it, but defensively he was caught up in the same sort of tangles which beset Horswill and Coleman.

Watson’s rescue act in the second half was welcome indeed, just as Lathan’s readiness to chase and challenge brought dividends at the other end.

Montgomery had a lot of anxious moments because of the uncertainty in front of him but he handled several dangerous situation in fine style.

Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on November 13 1972.