Roker Reflections: Confidence in a bold Sunderland challenge

editorial image
Have your say

EVERYONE knows that Sunderland will need to lift their game if they are to overcome Arsenal’s challenge in next week’s FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough to earn their second appearance in a Wembley Final, but no one can discount their chances of doing so.

In the last three months so much has gone right for Sunderland, so many of their pressing problems have been eliminated, that there is mounting confidence in their ability to achieve anything they set out to do.

The long-awaited switch from promise to achievement is well under way and the level of consistency has launched them into a climb which looks like carrying them to totally unexpected heights.

The last peak was a convincing Sixth Round win over Luton, but since then they have tackled three League games – two away from home and won them all to brush aside any lingering doubts about their ability, not only to break clear of the danger zone, but to apply themselves to the task of claiming an even better final rating in the table than the fifth place which they claimed last season.

Before they could clear the decks for their all-out assault on Arsenal next week, they had first to press their challenge against Bristol City this afternoon and then on Monday night step out against Queen’s Park Rangers, already virtually assured of promotion, in a Roker Park game which gives them the chance to demonstrate that they are already promotion class themselves if not yet in a promotion position.

But when they set out for their Buxton headquarters on Tuesday they will be single-minded in their pursuit of a physical and mental build-up for the biggest and most exciting test which they have ever faced.

And manager Bob Stokoe, the man who has produced and coaxed them into believing in themselves, will be hard at work in the quiet of the Derbyshire hills to ensure that they will come up to the starting line at Hillsborough next Saturday in condition to do themselves justice and give those supporters lucky enough to obtain tickets an occasion to remember.

Arsenal, who have now a lot of success under the guidance of Mr Bertie Mee, will be no less determined to make progress and keep major honours within reach for the fourth successive season. Their run started with an Inter-Cites Fairs Cup triumph in 1969-70. This was followed by a League and Cup double in 1970-71 and last season they were at Wembley again in the FA Cup Final, losing by 1-0 to Leeds United.

The fact that no professional side has reached the Final in three successive seasons will not worry them unduly. Mr Mee will have a much more factual approach to the task and he has taken the trouble to have himself well briefed on what is to be expected from Sunderland.

George Male must have given him plenty to think about after seeing Sunderland turn on some of their best football in beating Fulham at Craven Cottage last week and Mr Mee took a first hand view on Tuesday night, when he saw Sunderland struggle and then raise their game by sheer effort to claim a 2-1 over Carlisle United.

In neither game was there the fierce application of skill and urgency with which Sunderland demolished Manchester City in the Fifth Round, however, and if Manager Bob Stokoe has them keyed up to the same pitch next Saturday, the Arsenal may find that Sunderland are indeed equipped to renew the intensive rivalry which existed between the club in the 1936’s.

Arsenal have a reminder of those memorable years in their own record books, for it was on May 9, 1935, that an all-time record Highbury crowd of 73,295 watched Arsenal and Sunderland play out a 0-0 draw.

And for those who like to remember the old times, the Sunderland team that day was Thorpe, Murray, Hall, Tomson, Johnston, Hastings, Davies, Carter, Gurney, Gallacher and Connor.

Today’s Sunderland side, increasing in stature with every game, will hope to press on towards the great deeds of that era. And they will count it an important stride towards the top if they can play match-winning football against their time-honoured rivals next week. Supporters have never been more united in willing them on.

If a reply is necessary in the semi-final this will take place at Goodison Park on April 11 and not, as first announced, at Maine Road.

It is probable that replay tickets would be offered for sale on a first-come-first-served basis in the belief that a mid-week replay would in itself have a limiting effect upon the number of supporter who would be able to travel.

But club secretary, Mr Ron Linney has a word or two of advice for the course which will be taken if Sunderland manage to get through to the Final.

The ballot cards which went into today’s ballot for Semi Final tickets would be valid again for a ballot for Final tickets. All those who obtained cards at the Carlisle game and again this afternoon are advised to retain them until the result of next Saturday’s game is known for no further cards will be issued for the Final ballot.

Supporters successful in today’s ballot will have to surrender their cards in exchange for Semi-Final tickets tomorrow, but they will be issued with replacement cards to qualify them for a place in the Final ballot, too.

The Football League’s refusal to grant permission for the venue of the Sheffield United v Crystal Palace game to be switched means that three teams whose traditional colours are red and white will be in action in Sheffield next week. Those who like to wear favour at that a game may welcome the reminder that Sunderland will be playing in all white, with Arsenal wearing yellow shirts, blue shorts and yellow stockings.

Story taken from the Football Echo on March 31, 1973.