EVERYTHING pointed to Sunderland running into seriously trouble on their visit to bang-in-form Queen’s Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Saturday. The London club had hit ten goals without a single concession in their four previous games and with £165,000 signing Dave Thomas added to their line-up they were expected to provide a real treat for their biggest crowd of the season. But Sunderland, weakened by the late withdrawals of Watson and Hughes, proved to be the star turn and it was only two lucky goals in a three-minute spell early in the second half which enabled Rangers to gain a flattering 3-2 victory.
Sunderland, playing with great spirit and flair, were desperately unlucky not to show profit from a game which they dominated for long spells ... and especially in the last quarter, when they rolled Rangers back into their own penalty area for a bombardment which seemed certain to produce game-swinging goals. But there was only one break-through, brilliantly forced by a 17-year-old Hamilton, before time came to the Rangers’s rescue.
There was no better play on view than Kerr, the Sunderland captain. The power and skill packed into this tiny frame enabled him to take charge in the midfield areas, where new boy Thomas fought unsuccessfully to mark his arrival with an encouraging performance.
Although QPR defenders double up on Kerr in the hope of applying a physical brake, they could not extinguish his genius. He had a big hand in both of Sunderland’s goals and only a super save by Parkes prevented him from claiming an equaliser in the last few minutes.
It was not, however, a one-star show from Sunderland’s point of view. There were peak form contributions from Malone, McGiven and Tueart to mark a return to the team game which carried such high promise in the early weeks of the season. And with it came the assurance that the string of successive defeats against Oxford United and Luton Town have not started a slide, but have produced the right reaction.
One more defeat, perhaps, but in this mood Sunderland will know, once again, that they can tackle all their League tasks with confidence. Financial embarrassment prevents them from adding the extra qualities which could make them a great side, but take the combined views of the opposition manager for it is that they are already a very good team indeed.
While experienced players Montgomery and Porterfield gave excellent accounts of themselves and there was only the odd moments of uncertainty to mar the hard-working effort of Pitt, there was the greatest encouragement from the displays given by the younger elements, Horswill, Bolton, Hamilton and Lathan.
Hamilton, now on call-up with the Scottish youth international squad, gave his best senior performance so far, leading the line with great dash and adding two near-misses to his well-taken goal, while Lathan’s challenging play often had the Rangers’s defence rattled.
Bolton, missing for two months since his knee injury in the second game of the season, had to be respected for his close and capable marking and Horswill came through his ordeal against an all-star attack with flying colours.
Sunderland’s readiness to attack in strength was the quality which gave Rangers the greatest cause for concern. In the pounding which Rangers took in the first 20 minutes there was the message that they could not afford to throw extra men forward, for every time their attacks broken down there was an immediate Sunderland surge. This was the pattern of the game which, on balance, ended with Sunderland having done more of the attacking.
Sunderland exerted a lot of pressure in the early stages and were near to a goal when Hamilton shaped an attack which ended with Kerr gaining a corner on the left. He took the kick himself and Hamilton, winning in the air, headed down wide of Parkes, only to see Watson clear from the line.
Corners came freely to mark the extent of Sunderland’s pressure, including a hectic spell of three in a minute, but they had to wait until the 27th minute for their first goal.
This came when Kerr picked up a fine crossfield pass by Malone and neatly evaded two tackles as he broke on the left to make his centre. The ball was pushed out in the direction of Tueart, who from two yards outside the penalty area hit a right-foot shot which Parkes had no chance of reaching.
Six minutes later Rangers drew level with an equally good goal. The move started from a throw-in on the right and when Leach eventually slipped it through, Givens was there to hammer in an angled drive which rebounded into goal from the inside of the far post.
Rangers went close through Hazell and Givens, but just before the break Tueart stormed past three defenders in a brilliant burst only to see his well-hit drive go narrowly wide.
There was another chance for Sunderland early in the second half when Hamilton beat Parkes to a back pass by Francis, but he had to play the ball wide and his off-balance shot from a narrow angle went behind off the foot of the near post.
Then came the hammer blows. In 51 minutes Francis beat Bolton cleverly in cutting in from the right to hammer the ball into the middle. Montgomery failed to cut it out with his dive and the ball struck Bowles and rebounded into the net.
The next gift arrived three minutes later when Francis and Givens teamed up on the right. Montgomery beat down the shot, but Pitt, turning on the to the ball, struck it firmly straight to Bowles, who had the simplest of tasks in turning it home from five yards.
When Rangers were up again to force a corner and this had been cleared, Montgomery tried to direct the referee’s attention to Bowles’s niggling tactics which were going unnoticed. Montgomery was promptly booked.
With Sunderland’s build-up in full swing, Lathan had a goal disallowed for offside after Hamilton headed down to him and Kerr twice went wide.
Then with only seven minutes to go came the goal which shattered Rangers’ confidence. Predictably Kerr was at the start of it.
Evans won a heading duel with Lathan, but there was little power in his header. Kerr made a lot of ground to win possession ahead of Clement and promptly cross the ball to Tueart on the height. Tueart needed a second attempt to bring it under control and when he tried to move on goal a Watson body-check knocked him flat. He took the free-kick himself, driving it hard and low into the middle, where Hamilton dived though a packed defence to head a great goal.
Queens Park Rangers: Parkes, Clement, Watson, Venables, Evans, Hazell, Thomas, Francis, Leach, Bowels and Givens.
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Horswill, Pitt, Porterfield, McGiven, Kerr, Hamilton, Lathan and Tueart.
Referee Mr J H Yates of Worcester.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on October 23 1972.