ON a pitch which reduced football to a farce, Sunderland and Swindon still managed to produce entertainment of a kind at the County Ground this afternoon.
They foundered through mud and water with tremendous spirit tireless in their efforts to guess what the ball would do next, and usually guessed wrongly. In a game which should never have started, Swindon gained the inspiration of a 28th minute goal by Butler to set Sunderland an uphill task in the second half.
Sunderland booker for water sports, for heavy rain throughout the morning had left a surface covering of water and rain was still pouring down when the game started.
The sight of a single groundsman forking the pitch half an hour before the start was pathetic and made no impression in the goalmouth where the water was deepest.
Swindon fielded an unchanged side but Sunderland brought in Ron Guthrie for his League debut in place of Joe Bolton at left back and John Lathan was named as substitute.
There was only about 5,000 present at the start and there was early warning of problems which both sides would be facing under these conditions.
There was an early scare for Sunderland when an attempted back-pass by Ashurst dragged to a halt a few yards from his foot and Noble stepped in with a clear chance.
Young was across to cover and when Noble went down, there were confident appeals for a penalty, but the referee waved them aside.
Butler moved well on the left from a throw by Allan and his forward pass seemed to present Treacy with the clearest of runs to goal, but once again the pitch played tricks and Treacy slid to a halt with the ball ten yards behind him.
Swindon kept up the pressure and gained three corners in the first five minutes. From the third of these Moss’s kick was pushed out for Treacy, but Tueart saw the danger and was back to make an excellent clearance.
A long ball down the middle by Kerr had Hughes going well and though he had the pace to keep ahead of his challengers he lost all the advantage when it came to controlling the ball through the water.
Sunderland’s first crack at goal came after Watson and Porterfield had combined on the left and when a Burrows header travelled to the other side of goal Malone tried a first-time shot which lifted high over the bar.
Then Kerr went in close when Tueart slammed the ball into the middle, but Allan beat him to it.
A free-kick against Malone was driven into the middle by Trollope, and when Montgomery could only push the ball down inside the goal area, Guthrie played safe by driving it behind for a corner.
Sunderland gained a free-kick in midfield when Burrows was pulled up for using both hands to rise above Watson. From Young’s kick Watson headed on, and Allan was relieved to see it go behind with Kerr challenging.
Allan’s goal-kick was pulled down by Watson, who made space for a right-foot drive from 20 yards which travelled straight at Allan.
Shortly afterwards Swindon had a remarkable escape when Malone hit a long ball which seemed destined to reach the Swindon goalkeeper, but it stopped in the water and Hughes was on to it in a flash, only to meet an immediate challenge from Allan.
Both players went down and there was a five-man pile up on the ball before it was eventually scrambled away.
In the next minute, however, Allan had to pull out a brilliant save when Tueart planted a great shot across him and just inside the post.
At first the goalkeeper appeared beaten, but he dived back to make a great save.
Montgomery had to dive out to reach a back-pass and from his clearance Burrows gave away another free-kick with a foul challenge on Watson.
Under these farcical condition anything could happen and it became less and less a game of football and more a guessing game on what a ball would do next .
A long ball by Jenkins, who was pursued by Hughes, ended with him gaining a corner on the left, which resulted in Swindon taking the lead in the 28th minute.
Jenkins took the kick himself and when the ball was headed out to the edge of the penalty area, BUTLER hammered in a shot which Montgomery had no chance of reaching.
When Sunderland tried to hit back, Burrows halted him with a sliding tackle and travelled ten yards on his back after making contact with the ball. From the throw-in Guthrie hit a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area but was just off target.
Malone hit a long free-kick for a foul on himself by Jenkins, and when Watson helped the ball on, Kerr gained a free-kick just outside the penalty area when he was held back by two defenders. With Sunderland up in strength, however, Kerr dropped the free-kick over the bar.
Allan had to dive out to gather a centre by Tueart after the winger had linked with Kerr on the right hand and then Sunderland were back again when Kerr stabbed the ball through for Hughes on the left. Hughes went through to the line before making his centre, but once again Allan dived out to collect.
Young took all the sting out of a Swindon attack with a powerful tackle on Butler, and Guthrie’s challenge halted Bunkell on the right after he had reached a dangerous position.
Watson beat Thomas cleverly on the right from a through ball by Malone, but when he hammered the ball over into the middle Allan raced out to gather it, Hughes coming in from the other wing.
The rain had eased for the second half but there was no improvement in playing conditions.
Allan was the first goalkeeper in action collecting a cross by Kerr.
It looked as though Swindon would go two up when another freak bounce of the ball enabled Butler to go clear on the right, with Montgomery out of his goal and beaten. But there was a race back to cover and the open goal chance disappeared before Butler could bring the ball under control well enough to accept it.
Then a long ball out to the right was clearly going out of play and everyone gave up the chase, but when it struck the corner flag and rebounded into play, Moss was there first to drive it into the middle, where Treacy hammered in a close-range shot narrowly wide.
When Sunderland pushed up on the left with Watson adding his strength and challenge to the attacking game, he won space for Tueart. Kerr was at the far post and unmarked, but Tueart’s cross did not carry and was easily intercepted by Allan.
Ashurst had to receive attention after being elbowed by Treacy.
Swindon were up for a corner when Montgomery could not hold a hard-hit back-pass by Young, but a bold run by Horswill from the clearance gained a corner for Sunderland on the left. Porterfield hooked the kick, but his attempted inswinger dropped behind the goal.
Sunderland came back again for two corners on the right but failed to turn either to advantage.
Burrows was injured in sliding into a tackle on Kerr to give away a corner, and when he was taken over the line to receive treatment play continued without him. Burrows was eventually lifted on a stretcher and carried into the dressing room, with Porter coming on as substitute in the 73rd minute.
In the 75th minute Lathan took over as substitute for Kerr. Horswill tried to make a shooting chance for Tueart with a long ball from midfield, but Swindon defenders were on their way out before the ball was struck and Tueart was caught offline.
Sunderland gained the equaliser which their pressure deserved in the 78th minute after Tueart had forced a corner on the left and taken the kick himself. Hughes won in the air in front of goal and PORTERFIELD was there first to stab in home with his left foot.
Immediately Watson dropped back into defence again, though Sunderland did not give up their pursuit of a match-winning goal.
SWINDON TOWN: Allan, Thomas, Trollope, Bunkell, Burrows, Potter, Moss, Butler, Treacy, Noble, Jenkins. Sub: Porter
SUNDERLAND: Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Young, Kerr, Ashurst, Hughes, Porterfield, Tueart. Sub: Lathan
Ref: Mr J E Bent of Hemmel Hempstead.
HOW THE GOALS CAME
BUTLER 28 mins
PORTERFIELD 78 mins
PERHAPS a draw was the only result which could fit this sort of game. No discredit to the players of either side for the efforts which were made. The contribution which came from every player was courage and a readiness to work under ridiculous conditions. That was provided in good measure, and though Sunderland had to wait until 12 minutes from the end for their point-winning goal there could be no denying that they were entitled to it.
One pleasing feature which emerged was the assurance that both Young and Guthrie can give valuable service in defence.
Story taken from the Football Echo on January 20 1973.