Ha’way Back When: Wilf Rostron the inspiration as Sunderland tame Lions

Wilf Rostron fires in a shot in Sunderland's win over Millwall on October 15, 1977
Wilf Rostron fires in a shot in Sunderland's win over Millwall on October 15, 1977
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Sunderland 2 Millwall 0 – October 15, 1977

Sunderland were never at their best, but manager Jimmy Adamson was heartened by a Roker Park victory over Millwall – ending the club’s run of eight Second Division matches without a win.

The Wearsiders had slipped to fifth bottom spot, having failed to win for almost two months going into Millwall’s visit.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Though Sunderland struggled to get out of first gear, they still did enough to send the Lions home to London without a point.

Adamson told the Echo: “The performance was not as important as the result.

“We desperately needed to win this one to bring back confidence and flair.

“I think it could do just that.”

No doubt the pressure played its part in Sunderland’s nervy display, especially after a bright start did not bring the reward of a goal – Mick Henderson going closest with a fierce 20-yard strike which forced a superb save out of Nicky Johns.

But, as anxiety increased among the 22,000 crowd, the home side finally made the breakthrough midway through the second half.

Wilf Rostron’s persistence was the key factor in the opening goal.

He refused to give up on a ball which looked destined to go behind for a goal-kick, chasing it down and stabbing over a first-time cross, low and hard, into the middle.

Though Millwall had defenders back, the ball travelled through to Kevin Arnott, who forced his far-post shot over the line, despite the valiant attempt of impressive goalie Johns to keep it out.

Rostron was also involved in the killer second goal eight minutes later.

The home-grown Wearsider sent over a corner – won when Johns made a fine save to keep out a Roy Greenwood header – and Jackie Ashurst headed on for Gary Rowell to sidefoot past the helpless keeper.

Greenwood won praise for his efforts.

Argus wrote in the Echo: “There was further confirmation for the Sunderland manager’s belief that Greenwood, a player right out of the running for consideration three months ago, has, in three games, played himself into an important position in the scheme of things.

“He had a hand in a lot of Sunderland’s best work, helped to create the position which led to the first goal, and went close on two occasions.

“More than that, though, he linked up well and gives extra pace to an attack which struggles quite a bit on that account.” Victory was a big boost, but it was still a worrying time for Sunderland, who had been installed as pre-season promotion favourites following their excellent second half of the previous First Division relegation campaign.

Deputy manager Dave Merrington went on record, saying: “We haven’t got a squad yet capable of getting us into the First Division.”

Argus commented: “It’s a valid assessment.

“With a quarter of the season gone, the league table indicates that they are six points from a promotion position and only two points clear of the relegation zone.

“That is precisely where they belong on the season’s form so far.”

The Millwall win did spark Sunderland into life, the first of four victories in five games, but 1977/78 was a dismal campaign, brightened only by an impressive late run of five wins in the last six games to finish the season in the unlikely heights of sixth – albeit a chastening 12 points adrift of Tottenham, promoted in third place.

Sunderland: Siddall,Henderson, Bolton, Kerr, Elliott, Ashurst, Rostron, Arnott, Greenwood, Lee, Rowell. Sub: Holden.

Millwall: Johns, Donaldson, Walker, Brisley (Seasman 75), Kitchener, Hazell, Hamilton, Pearson, Alexander, Murphy, Chambers.

Att: 22,181.