Goal-front failure leads Sunderland to first home defeat

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SUNDERLAND’S first home defeat of the season against Luton Town on Saturday was an astonishing affair, for if they had been as adept at taking chances as they were at making them it would have been a one-sided contest comfortably settled before the break. But the only scoring breaks of the game were made and accepted by Luton, who deserved their 2-0 win on the score of efficiency, and Sunderland could not excuse themselves on an account for such a depressing failure.

From the Lathan header against a post in two minutes to the Porterfield shot over the bar from six yards just before the end, it was one long story of unfulfilled promise. Watson, pressing anxiously and with great determination for his first goal of the season was unlucky not to finish with three or four goals, while good opportunities were wasted upon Tueart and Kerr. All-out attack which earned them possession for nearly three-quarters of the game added up to the worst kind of frustration because there was no end product.

Every point is important to Sunderland as they struggle to take closer order with the leading clubs, but there was special significance in this game as the start of a favourable sequence which offered the chance to win back some of the followers who have deserted them.

This was a big one for them. Although Luton are no more than competent, beating them would have been a fighting come-back from the mauling they received at Oxford a week earlier and set them up for a happier flow of results. Instead, they are back on their heels again with the next extremely tough task on their programme a visit to promotion-chasing Queen’s Park Rangers, who give little away in front of their fanatical following.

Last season was punctuated by big occasion failures in Roker Park games. From the general progress made since then it was everyone’s hope that they had worked this unwelcome habit out of their system. Here was the warning that it persists.

Defeat against superior opposition has to be accepted, but this was a bad result because there was ample opportunity to prevent it. For the rest of the season it is unlikely that they will win and squander so many chances in a single game.

Luton’s promise to play attacking football was forgotten in the first 20 minutes, when they had to fight desperately to survive.

Tueart brought one fine save from Barber and seconds later charged down a clearance and went though to make the centre which Lathan headed against the near post.

Porterfield and Lathan both went close as Sunderland piled on the pressure with Luton too involved defensively to show real conviction in their few attacking efforts. Then Malone took a hand with a typical break on the right, only to have his cross intercepted at the near post by Slough, and seconds later Watson brought a fine save from Barber with a powerful header from a Malone free-kick.

Kerr and Watson linked in the next attack and though it produced nothing more than a hastily-conceded corner, it seemed only a question of time before the goal rush started. Unhappily, the first break was at the other end with Luton accepting a gift chance completely against the run of play in the 25th minute.

A weak clearance by Ashurst travelled no further than Fern, who chipped it back to the right of goal. Montgomery slipped as he moved across to cover, but it made no difference for his was stranded at the wrong side of goal as Halom’s looping header dropped inside the far post.

A second goal could have followed in minutes when Horswill and Ashurst tangled in challenging for a long ball down the middle and Busby was left with a clear run. Montgomery raced out to meet him and succeeded in blocking his shot, but the ball spun to Fern, who promptly chipped it towards an open goal. Coleman was back in time to take up position on the line, but the ball hit the face of the bar and it was left to Montgomery to bring it under control.

Luton did not have long to wait for their next goal-scoring break. A Coleman challenge on Anderson to a long ball from Fern gave possession to Jim Ryan, who took a return pass from Anderson before going in to drive a low shot between Montgomery and the near post as the goalkeeper advanced.

A Sunderland goal was ruled out for an infringement when Tueart forced the ball home after Watson had headed on a Kerr throw and then Watson headed narrowly wide from a Kerr free-kick.

Slough appeared unfortunate to be booked for a delayed tackle on Watson in the 40th minute and just before the break a Lathan shot was beaten down and then scrambled away from the line as he and Watson charged into a wall of defenders.

In view of the pressure which they had been able to apply, it seemed that Sunderland were not without hope of making a match-winning recovery in the second half. The promise was maintained in the opening minutes, with Tueart shooting into the side netting within 20 seconds and Watson twice going close, his second effort, a strong header, rebounding from Thomson just short of goal.

The strong running continued, but the menace was not so evident and with extra men being thrown forward a defence which had shown a lot of uncertainty was exposed to attacks which Luton built up swiftly and with economy of effort.

A sequence of corner kicks and long throws by Kerr did not unduly trouble the Luton defence, but when Watson headed on from Coleman’s long through ball Barber had to dive out to Lathan’s feet to prevent a shot.

Busby completely missed the ball in his attempt to hit an empty net after taking it wide of Montgomery, before Sunderland saw their last chances slip away. First Watson had another header blocked on the line by Thomson and then Hughes, cutting in from the right, hit a strong shot which rebounded from Barber and was driven over the top by Porterfield.

Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on October 16 1972.