WATCHED by their smallest crowd of the season, Sunderland fell into all the old traps at Roker Park on Saturday afternoon to finish with a frustrating 0-0 draw against a defence-minded Fulham. The eager running which has swayed a few issues in their favour was still on show, but they did not produce the skill and accuracy to penetrate a tightly-packed defence until the last 20 minutes, when Fulham, happy at the prospect of achieving their minimum objective a goal-less draw – virtually surrendered the midfield and pulled extra men back.
Fulham rarely committed themselves to attack in strength, relying on the occasional break and often pulling strikers back to spoil in midfield. But when they did got forward, they moved with greater purpose and the fact that they made poor use of a few excellent changes was Sunderland’s good fortune rather than to the credit of their defence. It was a sad, sad occasion, relieved only slightly by the finishing burst, which brought promise without fulfilment.
Only one point out of the last eight is a hammer blow to Sunderland’s high hopes of earning and holding a place among the promotion front-runners. True, there is still two-thirds of their programme to be played and that gives them time to make amends and get back into the hunt. But this squandering of home points, a repetition of the failing which stopped them going up last season, does not inspire confidence.
Over the years, Fulham have always been counted among the least attractive visitors to Roker Park. Saturday’s turn-out means that their rating has not changed, but the depressing feature was that they succeeded in lowering Sunderland’s rating, too, at a time when everyone connected with the club recognises the desperate need to command improvement.
Away points are important and Fulham cannot be blamed for setting out their stall to avoid defeat, even when it means making little contribution to the entertainment value of the game. The fact that they were able to do so was a negative achievement but it also reflected upon Sunderland’s inadequacy.
The game’s first quarter carried fair warning of the disappointing fare which was to follow. Half-chances were wasted upon both sides, with Strong and Mullery slipping up for Fulham and Watson and Tueart going close for Sunderland.
An early goal for Sunderland might have diverted the flow of play into a happier channel and there was the clear chance of it in 24 minutes, when Tueart received a fine crossfield pass from Porterfield and sprinted away from Callaghan as the full back slipped. There was a lot of power in Tueart’s drive into the middle, but Kerr, on the six-yard line could only sent it wide of goal.
There were other chances, with Watson meeting a Kerr corner to send in a downward header which bounced before going wide and Tueart bringing in a good save from Mellor with a header from a free-kick by Malone. But that Kerr chance was a big on.
For their part, Fulham had nothing better than a clean break by Barrett, which brought a fine save from Montgomery, who managed to collect the ball at second attempt.
Porterfield, who had shown the greater consistency in the first half, renewed his drive to spur Sunderland to greater effort in the second and it was largely upon the foundation laid by him in midfield that they were able to throw Fulham back to a rearguard action in the later stages.
The offside trap upon which Fulham relied increasingly added to Sunderland’s frustration, but Porterfield took up the challenge to hold the ball through the defensive wall in going wide on the right. When he crossed it into the middle, however, there was no one up to take advantage.
Hamilton came into the game as substitute for Lathan in the 64th minute and Sunderland began to apply greater pressure upon the Fulham defence.
In one more solo break, Porterfield’s progress was checked by a wall of defenders at the edge of the penalty area and then came promising tilt against the offside trap when Watson moved well as Horswill headed through a Fulham clearance. Watson won space for a right-foot shot, which brought a fine save from Mellor, who was in action again immediately afterwards diving to save fierce shot from Tueart.
Fulham were slow in moving out again when a Porterfield lob reached Watson, but the centre forward went down, tackled from behind, inside the penalty area before the could get in a shot.
Mellor needed two attempts to collect another Tueart shot and then Porterfield and him in difficulties with a right-foot shot which went behind off a post.
Sunderland’s last match-winning chance was created by Watson, who sent Tueart through on the right. Tueart’s well-hit drive looked a winner all the way, but Mellor, diving across frantically, managed to beat it away for a corner.
Porterfield, Tueart, Watson and McGiven were the players who came out of it best from Sunderland’s point of view, with Porterfield taking top rating over the 90 minutes. He used the ball well and showed a lot of enterprise, particularly in the second half.
Tueart’s contribution to the forcing finish deserved to be rewarded, while Watson’s running battle against the tightest of marking did not prevent him from laying on chances and going close with a few on his own account. But that first goal of the season still proves elusive.
McGiven’s ball-winning ability was put to good use in the midfield region, where Kerr’s industry was not matched by his usual flair for setting up attacks. Lathan made rather less impact than usual, too, and Hamilton, who replaced him, had time to show one or two neat touches but little more.
There were surprisingly few calls upon Montgomery, despite a lot of uncertainty in defence, Malone was below his usual form and Pitt, having a lean time of it and failing to dominate the middle either in the air or on the ground, threw extra weight upon Horswill. Boldon was struggling at times, too, in an unimpressive defence.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on October 30 1972.