WITH both sides gearing their effort for an all-out attempt to reach the FA Cup Semi-Final seven days later, the timing of Sunderland’s visit to Luton Town at Kenilworth Road in a League game on Saturday was an embarrassment to both clubs. The fact that Luton finished 1-0 winners was as unimportant as the game itself, for this was a battle between below-strength sides which gave no hint of how the balance of power may lie under the spur of Cup ambitions.
Six of Sunderland’s Cup men failed to make the line-up and Luton were without four key player upon whom they will be relying for a much more convincing challenge at Roker Park on Saturday. Over the 90 minutes there could be no denying that Luton were worthy of the points which took them into sixth position, but in the last 20 minutes the edge was with Sunderland and with a little luck they might have salvaged a point.
Manager Bob Stokoe said afterwards: “I’m not too unhappy about the way things went. We came for a result and we were a bit unlucky, but I am pleased with the way the lads who came in played, because we have a lot of matches to play yet.”
He certainly could not be other than pleased by the output from Chambers, Ashurst and Bolton, who was called upon as substitute for Ellison in the 35th minute. And while Hamilton’s lack of pace over the first yard or two proved a big handicap against a keen tackling defence, he was a willing worker.
Young, who lost his place through injury and is keen to win it back, gave a good account of himself, too, while Lathan, in typical fashion, never gave up the chase.
But established players were still the star performers, with Watson giving a magnificent display as the king-pin in defence an also emphasising how closely he needs to be watched when pushing up into attack.
It is true that the switch from centre forward to centre half has enabled Watson to emerge as one of the outstanding defenders in the game. But it should not be forgotten that Sunderland would be out of the Cup today if he had not been switched back to centre forward as a tactical measure in that opening game against Notts County.
Close behind Watson for match honours was Montgomery, who was making his 452nd League and Cup appearance to equal the record held by Len Ashurst. He was in great form, making many fine saves and a bold attempt to keep out the match-winning goal.
Ellison, who bumped heads with Fern in the fifth minute and was taken off half an hour later suffering from double-vision, head little chance to show himself, while Guthrie had a lot of problems against Jimmy Ryan, who will need to be closely watched in Saturday’s game.
Both Halom and Porterfield put in the best work from the middle of the second half. Halom, tightly marked and given a hard tome of it, eventually found the answer and is persistence carried him into position from which he might well have scored one or two goals.
It was not until both Porterfield and Chambers were going at the opposition that the Luton defence began to look vulnerable. Neither shine at ball-winning but the manner in which they picked it up and used it had a big influence upon the pattern of play in the closing stages. They created chances for others and both went close to gaining an equaliser.
The first half dominated by Luton, was a slow-moving affair, with Sunderland’s solitary chance coming when Watson, up for a corner, played the ball back on the break and Horn was fortunate to be in their right spot to collect a side-footed first timer from Hamilton.
Montgomery had dealt with shots from Hindson, Thompson and Hales and pulled an inswinging corner by Jimmy Ryan from under the bar. And he was pressed into making one of his best saves, diving to his left to push the ball away from just inside the post when John Ryan stormed though the middle to hammer a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Next came a fine save from Hindson and there was an anxious moment when Halom, back to cover when Faulkener came up for a corner, appeared to handle inside the penalty area without being penalised.
Luton’s scoring break came in 42 minutes, when Halom, trying to find a team-mate when meeting a long ball, sent it straight to Hales, who promptly turned it down the middle. Shanks won the break and went on with only Montgomery to beat. He hammered his close range shot over Montgomery’s head and though the goalkeeper got a hand to the ball he could not keep it out.
Just before half-time, Watson headed off the line after Montgomery had taken most of the weight from a Thompson cross.
A burst of pressure early in the second half looked like increasing Luton’s lead, when Hales dashed past Montgomery with the ball ahead of him, but Watson got in the important tackle just short of the line.
The first hint that Sunderland were beginning to put their game together came when Hamilton headed over from a Porterfield Lob. The Halom came into it with a fierce shot which tested Horn and another which went narrowly wide.
Watson had Horn covering a long shot anxiously and was up again when Sunderland gained a free-kick ten yards outside the penalty area for a Faulkener foul on Halom. Chambers sent the ball wide to Watson on the right and when Watson cracked it towards goals Halom dived forward to nod it against the inside of the far post. Lathan missed a chance from the rebound.
There were further efforts from Halom, Chambers and Porterfield, with the Luton defence looking extremely uncountable, but a game-saving break was denied them.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on March 12 1973.