YESTERDAYS: Sunderland 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0 1966

SO CLOSE: Hurley (right) jumps high, but Pat Jennings manages to clear the cross.

SO CLOSE: Hurley (right) jumps high, but Pat Jennings manages to clear the cross.

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SUNDERLAND capitalised on an off-day by Tottenham star Jimmy Greaves to ease growing relegation fears.

The Rokermen went into the game with just one win in eight games, but they rode their luck to pick up two precious points, thanks to a much-improved second-half performance.

Sunderland were guilty of defensive mistakes, poor marking in midfield and a lack of punch up front, but Frank Saul and Greaves passed up chance after chance for the visitors, who could have been four goals up at the break.

That would not have gone down well with manager Ian McColl, who made five changes and fielded his most experienced side, featuring eight full internationals. But by the end he was a happy man, and immediately announced an unchanged team for the next week’s game against Stoke.

Jim Baxter’s persistence was the pivotal factor in Sunderland’s 57th-minute opener. His first cross was charged down, but he chased the ball down and whipped over another centre from the left and Mike Hellawell, running in from the edge of the box, directed his header to the left of Pat Jennings’ net, with Clayton, desperately attempting to head clear, only managing to help the ball over the line for an own goal.

The tension noticeably eased, encouraging Sunderland to chase a decisive second goal.

But Sunderland had to wait until two minutes from time to finally see off Spurs. Hellawell tore 17-year-old left-back debutant John Collins apart time after time, delivering crosses for a well-marked Neil Martin, throughout the second period.

But he played his part in the clincher, taking John Parke’s crossfield pass in his stride and getting past Collins to float a centre into the middle where Martin outjumped two markers and keeper Jennings to place his header into an unguarded net.

Jimmy Montgomery kept his clean sheet with a stroke of luck and some fine saves, with his best effort a brilliant backward dive to gather a misplaced Parke header. Parke made amends by clearing off the line when Montgomery was beaten by Alan Gilzean’s fine header.

The keeper’s key moments included a magnificent diving save when a long ball split the home defence and left Saul free on goal.

Argus was a relieved man when he reported: “Sunderland had a very worrying time indeed before they added these two priceless points.

“Safety wise, the value of the victory was reduced by the fact that all the other troubled clubs managed to pick up points, but it came as a well-timed morale booster.

“There was heartening evidence that Hurley and Herd are now back to pre-injury form, Harvey gave his best all-round performance for some time and though Baxter’s blunders always seem to be more obvious than anyone else’s - and, therefore, draw the heaviest criticism - he certainly had his moments as a distributor.

“Herd was always the inspiration in attack, despite being shaken in a heading duel with Alan Mullery, with Hellawell giving a brilliant display on the wing despite the tough treatment he received.”

“They could thank their lucky stars, though, that Jimmy Greaves chose this game to lose his goalscoring touch for, on his chances alone, Spurs could have been comfortably ahead.”

Victory took Sunderland up to 17th place with 28 points from 34 games, five clear of the bottom two, though second-bottom Fulham showed they were up for the fight by winning 3-1 at West Ham and Blackpool secured a precious 2-1 victory at third-top Leeds.