Sunderland are on glory trail

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Wembley waits for Sunderland and they won the right to appear as the reward for a magnificent performance in hammering mighty Arsenal to a 2–1 defeat in the F.A. Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough on Saturday. They never doubted their ability to do it and, to the delight of what must surely have been the most biased crowd ever assembled for a Semi-Final, they took Arsenal apart with a sustained effort which had them emerging as a team of great quality.

The difference in League status and in accomplishments over the last few years had no bearing upon this exciting encounter. By their determination to deny Arsenal time and space, Sunderland opened up a wide range of opportunities for their own strikers to display their skills. And so convincingly was control imposed throughout the first half that Sunderland could and should have been three or four goals to the good at half time, instead of leading by only 1–0.

The plan of campaign, master-minded by Manager Bob Stokoe, worked like a charm in the second half too, and though their lead stepped up to 2–0 in the 63rd minute was cut back to 2–1, with six minutes to go, desperate Arsenal knew that the best they could produce was not going to be good enough.

It was an emotional occasion for everyone with a Sunderland interest – and the many converts claimed by the elated exporters of the “Roker Roar” – when Referee David Smith signalled the end as Radford and Armstrong argued over who should take the corner-kick which might have offered them their last game-saving chance.

To a tremendous ovation from the crowd, the Sunderland players danced a jig on the pitch and then rushed over to the track to share their joy with Mr Stokoe, who welcomed them with open arms and had a special hug for each of his heroes.

As Sunderland players and staff disappeared into the tunnel, supporters made to attempt to leave the terraces but stood and chanted “We want Stokoe.” They were not to be denied and when Mr Stokoe reappeared to take a bow, he was near to tears as he blew kisses into the crowd and held up his arms in acknowledgement of the acclaim.

Afterwards, Mr Stokoe admitted “It was a very emotional moment and certainly the greatest of my career, including the thrill of getting a Cup-winners medal in 1955. Weren’t they magnificent? What can you say about such wonderful supporters and such wonderful players?

“I could not have asked for more from any of them. They gave me exactly the performance I wanted. We were better than Arsenal in every way. And after beating Manchester City and Arsenal we are ready for Leeds United. We will be just as full of confidence at Wembley.

There was generous support for his point of view from Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson, who hid his disappointment over failure to claim a third successive appearance in the Final to say “If Sunderland play at Wembley like they did today they can do it. They were magnificent. They beat us on merit.”

The full flavour of their achievement was still making its impact upon Sunderland’s starry-eyed players as they made the return to deserted Sunderland streets in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Led through chorus after chorus by star performer Billy Hughes, they sang as wildly and as heartily as their supporters had done throughout the game, with “We shall not be moved” receiving encore after encore.

Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on April 9 1973.