SUNDERLAND kept up their promotion push with a comfortable win over Oldham – despite never being at their best.
The clinical finishing of Pop Robson, who bagged both goals in an impressive individual display, sent the hard-working Latics home pointless.
The win kept the table-topping Rokermen four points clear of closest challengers Bristol City.
Oldham’s close marking gave Sunderland problems, with their overloaded midfield making life tough for Tony Towers, in particular, to shine.
Argus commented in the Echo: “This was by no means a vintage performance by Sunderland, but it carried the welcome assurance that when things are not going too smoothly, they are still in the mood to keep battling on.
“This is a basic quality which has not always been there, but it is showing through now and will surely be needed over the next few months, when they tackle 10 away games out of 16.
“Without it they will be hard-pressed to defend the commanding position which they have now won in the promotion race.
“Four points clear at the top and seven points ahead of fourth place as they approach the halfway stage of the season is a success story by any standard..
“And while their fans savour the brilliance which they still have on call, it is their ability to scrap it out against the sides which put their game together, like Oldham, which is going to be the more important quality in the long run.”
Dick Malone tested Oldham keeper Chris Ogden with a fierce, long-range strike before Sunderland grabbed a 32nd-minute lead.
Oldham conceded a corner in a moment of desperate defending as Sunderland’s pressure began to tell.
Ian Porterfield sent over an inswinging flag-kick which reached Robson, outside the far post, and his powerful header gave Ogden no chance.
Mel Holden headed against the bar from a Bobby Kerr cross as Sunderland kept up their dominance, then Robson was denied by Ogden’s foot on the line as he looked to slam home a shot early in the second half.
Ogden made a fine save to keep out a Towers strike, but Sunderland doubled their lead on the hour mark.
Vic Halom received Porterfield’s pass then crossed it into the middle for Robson, who controlled the ball well under pressure before driving his shot in, just inside the post.
Holden had a last-minute “goal” chalked off in controversial fashion, with referee Richardson signalling that he had blown for full-time as the striker converted Kerr’s corner, with the keeper only able to help the ball into the net.
Argus wrote: “Halom and Hughes showed enterprise and had to absorb a lot of punishment to keep it going.
“But the player with the surer touch in front of goal was Robson.
“He judged his header nicely for the first goal, but his second was a greater accomplishment, for when Halom crossed from the left wing, Robson was covered on the inside at the near post and had to strike the right balance to place his shot across Ogden and just inside the right hand post.
“It is Sunderland’s good fortune to have a few specialists in their production line, and though the quality touch showed only in flashes in the first half, Oldham discovered later why Sunderland are topping the table and looking like staying there.
“Moncur, steady as a rock in central defence, was well supported by Clarke in blocking Oldham’s path to goal down the middle.”