JOHN Cooke enjoyed a dream day, extending Sunderland’s magnificent home record.
The 17-year-old only got his chance because of injuries to Alan Brown, Bob Lee and John Hawley, but he proved to be the hero of the Rokermen’s 13th win in 15 unbeaten home games in Division Two.
Chris Turner matched Cooke’s efforts with a series of brilliant saves, including three magnificent stops to deny certain equalisers that would have taken Luton Town back to the top of the table.
The second-top Hatters attracted the Match of the Day cameras to Roker Park, but Cooke - just back from a week’s training with the England Youth squad at Lilleshall and playing only his second league match - rocked the visitors, taking his chance well in the 61st minute.
Kevin Arnott’s inswinging left-wing corner was only cleared as far as Stan Cummins. He returned the ball wide to Arnott, whose cross was missed by Bryan “Pop” Robson but travelled on to the unmarked Cooke, who blasted his shot high into Jake Findlay’s net from close range.
Victory did not improve Sunderland’s eighth-place standing, but the Wearsiders were within two points of the promotion places and just three off leaders Leicester - in the days of two points for a win.
Cooke made an impact early on, almost getting on the end of Claudio Marangoni’s cross and then beating three defenders and only being halted by a well-timed Mike Saxby challenge as he was about to shoot.
Turner made his first crucial save in the 13th minute when Bob Hatton headed down a corner and Turner blocked with his legs on the line.
Findlay was forced to produce a fine stop to defy Marangoni, before skipper Steve Whitworth ruined a great position, crossing well behind the goal, much to the crowd’s dismay.
It was never the greatest of games, but Cooke tried a delicate chip which almost caught out Findlay before Sunderland should have gone ahead on 53 minutes, after a good link-up between Marangoni and sub Barry Dunn, with Robson sending a diving header across the face of the goal when it seemed easier to score.
Cooke finally made the breakthrough just after the hour, but it was backs to the wall for the remainder of the game, with Turner coming to the fore in impressive fashion.
David Moss, Luton’s 21-goal striker, got clear of debutant left-back Joe Hinnigan for the first time and looked sure to score when he closed in, but Turner turned his near-post shot around the post.
He made another superb stop soon after, narrowing the angle well to make life difficult for Brian Stein, after he played a neat one-two with Ricky Hill.,
Turner sealed his clean sheet when he defied marauding full-back Kirk Stephens, who had surged into the box to fire in a fierce strike.
Geoff Storey hailed the influence of Kevin Arnott, writing: “Arnott’s passing makes him a player of high quality and, now that he is adding more bite and consistency to his play, the midfield is at last beginning to fire on all cylinders.”
But he criticised the tactical game of Ken Knighton’s men, adding: “Sunderland persisted with the long high ball up to the front-runners without success, hardly surprising considering their pint-sized attack was dwarfed by the the towering Mike Saxby and Paul Price.”